When Jan M. Bennetts joined the Ada County prosecutor’s office in 1994 and began fighting for crime victims, she knew she’d found her life’s calling.
“I never looked back from that moment forward,” she says. “I was all in.”
More than 20 years later, last November, Bennetts was sworn in as the first female prosecuting attorney in the county’s history, a culmination of her tireless work trying cases ranging from child abuse and domestic violence to homicide and robbery. She’s handled several death penalty cases in her time at the prosecutor’s office, which she says were among the most difficult of her career.
Though the work can be mentally and emotionally trying, to Bennetts, there is nothing more rewarding than helping crime victims navigate the criminal justice system and come out on the other side. After so many years as a prosecutor, she’s seen dramatic changes in the lives of victims she’s touched and loves when they reach out to let her know how they’re doing.
“I carry a lot of the victims around in my heart,” she says. “I care about them, I think about them and I remember their names.”
In fact, Bennetts was instrumental in bringing together law enforcement, medical professionals, victim advocates and social services together to create the Ada County FACES of Hope Victim Center, a facility where victims in crisis can access resources in one location without needing to drive from place to place for services. Today, she serves as vice president for the Women and Children’s Alliance, and is well respected in the community for her service.
“Jan has always represented a beam of hope and light in a dark world where so many need an advocate,” says J. Thomas “Tommy” Ahlquist, chief operating officer of Gardner Company, who met Bennetts while working as an emergency room physician. “Thousands of victims and their families have been served with care and compassion because of Jan Bennetts.”
Those thoughts are echoed by her allies in law enforcement.
“Bennetts is an exceptional advocate for some of the most vulnerable members in our community, and I can think of no better person to lead the charge,” says Richard Allen, Garden City chief of police.
Growing up on a ranch in Challis, Bennetts learned the value of hard work. Since she was very young, she says, she’s had extremely high expectations of herself, which is still what motivates her to this day.
After graduating from Willamette University College of Law, she completed a clerkship with Judge Thomas Nelson at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Boise. She says the criminal case transcripts she would read called to her during that time, and she immediately joined the Ada County prosecutor’s office after her clerkship ended. Today, as she leads the 150 or so lawyers, victim advocates and support staff of the office, she hopes to be a leader her staff can look to for strength and guidance as they tackle the challenges of their work.
“To lead the people who do what we do is very much a privilege and an honor,” she says. “I feel like it’s bigger than me.”