The D.A.'s Dilemma

After the suicide of a formerly incarcerated woman suffering mental illness, an Oregon D.A. examines his county’s prison diversion programs.

District Attorney Aaron Felton of Polk County
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
February 3, 2021
12 minutes
Funding Initiative
Short-Form Series and Special Projects
Close up image of The D.A.'s Dilemma director, Kate McMahon.

Kate McMahon

Kate McMahon is an award-winning documentary producer, director and writer. Her work portfolio includes programs for FRONTLINE; The PBS NewsHour, NOW with Bill Moyers and numerous PBS specials. Kate’s most recent PBS 4-part series, Hacking Your Mind premiered nationally in September 2020 and FRONTLINE: Coronavirus Pandemic premiered April 21, Show more 2020. Show less

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The Film

On a dark November night in 2018, Alexandria Tereshka stepped into a busy Salem, Oregon highway clutching stacks of court records and case files. After spending years stuck in a cycle of addiction, mental illness, and incarceration, Tereshka laid down on the pavement and was killed by two cars. Her death was officially recorded as a suicide, but her family believes it was a cry for help.

In Polk County, where Alexandria Tereshka died, District Attorney Aaron Felton didn't begin his career as a proponent of prison diversion programs. But in 2016, after seeing data on how these programs reduce recidivism and incarceration rates in other Oregon counties, he helped establish a mental health court in the county. But in order to qualify for the court, defendants must meet certain criteria, and Alexandria Tereshka, who received a minor charge in the weeks leading up to her death, was deemed ineligible.

Two years after Tereshka’s death, District Attorney Felton takes a deeper look into how people become eligible for diversion programs and what can be done to improve the system.