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District Attorney

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District Attorney Matthew Van Houten


The District Attorney's Office is open by appointment only. If you'd like to discuss a case, please contact the office by telephone or email.  Additionally, anyone who has not received the COVID-19 vaccine must wear a mask at all times while in the Court House and at the District Attorney's Office. 




The Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office is responsible for the promotion of public safety through the prosecution of criminal offenses defined under State law, committed within Tompkins County. The District Attorney’s Office is committed to a progressive strategy of diverting individuals from the traditional prosecutorial model toward alternatives to incarceration focused on addressing the underlying individual needs that lead to involvement in the criminal justice system.


Mission Statement

The Mission of the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office is:

To do the right thing, in pursuit of justice, while honoring the Tompkins County Values of Integrity, Accountability, Community and Respect;

To exercise the authority of this office with honesty, fairness, humility and candor;

To hold individuals, ourselves and the criminal justice system accountable for our actions and our decisions;

To promote a safe, healthy, and just community by implementing evidence-based approaches to reducing crime, supporting victims in healing, and demonstrating our commitment that our criminal justice system must be fair for everyone; and

To commit to embracing a culture of inclusiveness where we treat others with dignity, understanding and compassion.


From the Desk of the District Attorney


Over 100 Criminal Justice Leaders, including DA Van Houten, Call on the Biden Administration to Establish a Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Prosecution. 

Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Prosecution.pdf





I am proud to announce that I am one of the fifteen prosecutors selected from across the nation to participate in this extremely important effort to bring more innovation and best practices to prosecutors’ offices in smaller jurisdictions.


From: Institute for Innovation in Prosecution <>
Sent: Wednesday, June 9, 2021 11:29 AM
To: Matthew Van Houten <>
Subject: Launching the IIP’s Beyond Big Cities Initiative

The Institute for Innovation in Prosecution is proud to
launch our 

Beyond Big Cities Initiative

Over the last several years, the nation’s conversation surrounding changes in prosecution has focused on a handful of urban, well-resourced prosecutor’s offices. Often, these prosecutors strive to shrink the footprint of the criminal justice system, reduce racial disparities, and bring a community-driven approach to prosecution. The IIP has engaged with many of these prosecutors since our inception, and we are proud to continue working with them. 

Beyond cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco and Baltimore are more than 2,300 prosecutor offices. Many of them have the same fierce commitment to justice and equity as their larger, metropolitan counterparts. If we are to create sustainable and effective change, we will need more than just the commitment of big city prosecutors. It is imperative that we include and support those in smaller jurisdictions as well.

With that in mind, this summer, the IIP is launching the Beyond Big Cities Initiative to engage medium and small-sized offices, many from rural areas. Together, we will explore how these prosecutors can overcome their unique challenges, rely less on incarceration and reduce racial disparities.

This project brings together more than fifteen elected prosecutors and various criminal justice stakeholders for open and honest conversations aimed at creating a series of best-practices guides on how to implement change in their communities. Generous financial support for this initiative is provided by the Microsoft Justice Reform Initiative.

To learn more about the initiative and its members, please visit,

For additional questions, please contact Alissa Heydari at

Learn More


I was one of more than 60 elected district attorneys to sign a joint statement condemning the attack on our nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021.  The joint statement, prepared by the Institute for Fair and Just Prosecution, can be read here.


District Attorney Van Houten is one of the nearly 100 criminal justice leaders who signed the joint statement on December 3, 2020, calling for an immediate end to the Federal Death Penalty. 

Federal Executions Statement -Press Release



I recently participated in a webinar put on by the Institute for Innovative Prosecution, focusing on mental health interventions and the specific work of the San Antonio Police Department in Texas.  I think this is something that we can learn from in our community and I’m hopeful that we can integrate this into our discussions as part of the Reimagining Public Safety task force.



Message from Tompkins County Administration:

Reimagining Public Safety Collaborative Updates, Announcing Series of Community Voices Public Forums, Additional Input Opportunities

Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca are announcing a series of community engagement opportunities and seeking the public’s input to help reimagine public safety. The collaborative effort follows an executive order from New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo requiring all municipalities with police departments in New York State to adopt a plan for reinvention by April 1, 2021. Members of the Ithaca and Tompkins County community are encouraged to review public forums and presentations shared by City and County officials and provide input.

The County and City will be hosting a series of Community Voices Public Forums for community members to share perspectives and visions for reimagining public safety. Community members are encouraged to provide input based on their recent interactions with law enforcement and thoughts on the role of trust in policing and public safety.

The first Community Voices Forum will be held on Friday, November 6 from 4:30pm – 6:00pm, using Zoom’s webinar function for live comment, livestreaming on YouTube. Members of the community are invited to participate by registering for the zoom webinar in advance, the moderator will use a timer displayed on the screen and participants will speak one at a time. Officials from Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca will be present, and all input shared in public forums will be archived and shared with working groups developing the reimagining public safety plan. Forums will occur weekly on Fridays through December 4, 2020 at 4:30pm, with the exception of November 27. An additional forum will be held on Saturday November 14.

Additional opportunities for community input are available and are listed below, online, and on a document being distributed widely throughout the community:

  • Fill out this online form
  • Leave a voice mail with input by calling 607-274-5465
  • Submit a paper input form. Download here or pick up at the Tompkins County Public Library (Starting November 5)
    • Mail Attn: Reimagining Public Safety
      • 125 E. Court St.
        Ithaca, N.Y. 14850
    • Drop Off:
      • Mayor’s Listening Post (Mailbox)
        108 E. Green St.
        ​Ithaca, NY 14850
      • Tompkins County Drop Box
        125 E. Court St.
        ​Ithaca, NY 14850
    • The Tompkins County Public Library is offering hours at computer stations to watch community forums and submit feedback. (Starting Nov 5th)
      • Open at 101 E. Green St, Ithaca, NY 14850, Tuesdays and Thursdays 10am-1pm, and Saturdays 3pm-6pm

A timeline of the reimagining public safety process, a list of working group members, and details on how the community can submit input are available online, and on this downloadable paper input form.

Members of the community who would like to receive updates on the process and announcements of future community forums via email can fill out this online form.


I am proud to sign the joint statement from more than 68 elected prosecutors across the nation, pledging to protect the reproductive rights of our constituents.  Thank you to Fair and Just Prosecution,, for putting this together. (Joint Statement From Elected Prosecutors



Message from the County Administrator Regarding Police Reform in Tompkins County: 

I will be hosting a public forum on police reform on Thursday, October 15 at 5pm. The forum will be streamed on Tompkins County’s YouTube channel and is part of the collaborative effort to reform policing with the City of Ithaca. As you may know, all municipalities with police departments are required to submit a policing reform plan to New York State by April 1, 2020 in response to State executive order 203 following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota earlier this year.

You are invited to review a prepared overview of Tompkins County governmental departments that report to the Public Safety Committee of the County Legislature and provide input on police reform via this survey.  You can also provide input through the YouTube chat function during the forum. Additional engagement opportunities, including ways for individuals to engage without internet access, will be shared with the community in the coming weeks.

The forum kicks off a series of public engagement opportunities that will be shared as Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca work with the Center for Policing Equity to review data and create reform plans. During the forum, I will provide a high-level overview of Tompkins County governmental departments, as well as share trends from community responses to the survey and outline next steps in the police reform process. 

Please feel free to forward this information to anyone you feel may be interested, and I hope to see you Thursday evening.




We have an opportunity to reinvent public safety here in Tompkins County and I am very much looking forward to participating in this process.  The County task force should be starting its work soon and the voice of the District Attorney is extremely important in that dialogue.  The Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School has published a five-step policy plan that I think is insightful and well written. Five-Step Policy Plan



The Institute for Innovation in Prosecution is a valuable resource for prosecutors who are committed to evolving and improving the criminal justice system.  The 2020 document, Prosecutorial Culture Change: A Primer, is a well written paper that I have distributed to the attorneys in this office.  While we already employ many of the recommended practices, there is always more to learn and we embrace our obligation to constantly improve. Prosecutorial Culture Change: A Primer.pdf



The Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office is committed to implementing the best practices from progressive prosecutors across the country.  Studies like the Brennan Center for Justice’s “21 Principles for the 21st Century Prosecutor” are extremely important and reflective of our local criminal justice system’s focus on the implementation of practices that promote public safety while treating individuals with dignity and respect.