News and Resources

Organizations that Support Prosecutorial Reform

Fair and Just Prosecution (FJP)

  • “Fair and Just Prosecution (FJP) brings together newly elected local prosecutors as part of a network of leaders committed to promoting a justice system grounded in fairness, equity, compassion, and fiscal responsibility. These recently elected leaders – and the vision they share for safer and healthier communities – are supported by FJP’s network through ongoing information sharing, research and resource materials, opportunities for on the ground learning, in-person convenings, technical assistance, and access to national experts.”

Prosecutor Impact

  • Prosecutors are the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system. Because they choose who to charge, what to charge them with, and the number and severity of the charges, prosecutors heavily influence the short and long-term outcomes of the people impacted by the system. The consequences of those decisions can mean the difference between the success or failure of someone touched by the system and the overall safety of the community. Prosecutors’ discretion requires them to make decisions to achieve better public safety through the lens of justice.”

  • “Founded in 2016, Prosecutor Impact is a not-for-profit organization built around the mission of improving community safety in the United States through a better understanding of the most important actor in the criminal justice system: the criminal prosecutor. Our belief is that through education, training, and improved access to technology for the American prosecutor, we can improve results in our communities.”

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Vera Insitute of Justice: The Reshaping Prosecution Program

  • “Across the country . . . a new generation of prosecutors . . . are part of a small but growing cadre who understand . . . that ‘tough on crime’ does not equal public safety. . . Vera is helping reform-minded prosecutors rethink their role in delivering justice and pursuing public safety, [and] partnering with prosecutors to put their campaign promises into action as concrete, data-informed policies and practices. The goal . . . is to develop strategies for prosecutors to reduce incarceration and promote racial equity in their work, and increase the public’s confidence in their office.”

Prosecutors: The Most Powerful Individuals in the Criminal Justice System

“The New Reformer Das,” American Prospect (Jan. 2, 2018)

  • “DISTRICT ATTORNEYS ARE in many ways the most important figures in the system,” says David Alan Sklansky, a Stanford law professor who studies DAs. “They are crucial gatekeepers between the police and the courts. They get to decide who gets charged and what they get charged with. They are the ones who recommend sentencing and negotiate plea agreements. And since the vast majority of criminal convictions in this country are the result of plea agreements, they are the ones who are negotiating sentences.””

  • “While the war on drugs, mandatory minimums, and discriminatory policing practices have all earned a great deal of scrutiny for creating the levels of mass incarceration we see today, more and more reformers are recognizing the pernicious role that prosecutors—who have a tremendous amount of power and discretion within the system—have played.”

  • “John Pfaff, a Fordham law professor and author of the provocative book Locked In, argues that the role low-level drug charges have played in the rise in mass incarceration is overblown. The main drivers, he contends, are the prosecutors in the country’s DA offices. By examining state court data, Pfaff finds that almost all prison population growth since 1994 derives from overzealous prosecutors, who have doubled the rate of felony charges brought against arrestees.”

  • “With the rhetoric of criminal justice reform now proving to be an increasingly effective political message, reformers are also wary of faux-progressive politicians who might co-opt the movement’s rhetoric. “‘I’m a criminal justice reformer’ are now some of the cheapest words in the English language,” says Rob Smith, executive director of the Fair Punishment Project. He points to former DAs . . . who all claimed the mantle of reform during elections only to revert to protecting police malpractice once in office.”

“John Oliver Puts Prosecutors in the Spotlight on Last Week Tonight,” Time (Aug. 6, 2018)

  • “According to Oliver, when we talk about the criminal justice system, we tend to just talk about Law & Order, policing, public defenders, prisons, and judges, but don’t talk about the 2,500 prosecutors who work in the system and wield immense power. “The vast majority of the time your fate is not decided by a judge or jury,” Oliver noted. “Nearly 95% of the cases that prosecutors decide to prosecute end up with the defendant pleading guilty.” Those plea bargains are basically a form of criminal justice based on what happens when “people just give up,” which Oliver pointed out was the same model AT&T uses for its customer service hotline.”

  • ““Like the Cheesecake Factory, prosecutors have the ability to ruin lives in a second,” Oliver continued, encouraging people to find out more about their local D.A.s. “If we do not decide ourselves what we want our criminal justice system to look like — prosecutors will decide.””

“National Advocacy Groups Back Candidates To Challenge Local Prosecutors,” NPR (Apr. 10, 2018)

  • ““We know that prosecutors at the end of the day are the ones who decide whether an individual comes into the justice system, and what that trajectory looks like," says Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution . . . Krinsky says prosecutors make big decisions about how people get charged: whether to pursue a charge that carries a mandatory minimum sentence, or something lighter; whether to try a minor as an adult or seek the death penalty. They can also decide not to charge someone, or whether someone should get offered drug treatment instead of jail time.”

  • “That's at the beginning of the process. At the end of it, prosecutors also wield incredible power because they set the terms of plea deals, which is how more than 90 percent of criminal cases end. Elected prosecutors are also hugely influential in state capitals, where Krinsky says they often have "more clout than any other in deciding what sort of legislative changes will happen" when it comes to criminal justice.”

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 Op-ed: WNBA star Maya Moore pushing for change to criminal justice system, USA Today

The “Trial Penalty”: The Dominance of Plea Bargains in Our System, The Open File: Prosecutorial Misconduct and Accountability (Aug. 29, 2018)

“Why Is This Happening? How prosecutors can help end mass incarceration, with Larry Krasner: podcast & transcript,” NBC News-THINK (July 10, 2018)

 “The Next Frontier in Criminal Justice,” The Week (Apr. 26, 2018)

  • “‘America’s prosecutors are out of control . . . This is an unjust charge, a charge that never should have been made. And the reason it has been made is simple: Prosecutors can basically do whatever they want.’ Prosecutors in America, most commonly called district attorneys, have enormous and often unaccountable discretion. ‘They can choose how harshly to go after someone, how lenient to go after someone,’ explains John Pfaff, a Fordham University professor of criminal law. ‘They have tremendous power in that respect.’”

“The Commonwealth’s Attorney Party”: How Prosecutors Dominate State Legislatures and Rewrite the Criminal Law

“Prosecutors Aren’t Just Enforcing the Law—They’re Making It,” The Appeal (Apr. 20, 2018)

  • “The failure of bail reform in New York mirrors countless other legislative reform failures in many other states. As Jessica Pishko wrote in The Nation, ‘‘district attorneys’ associations are powerful political actors. They do not just ‘enforce’ the law; in fact, they help to make it.’ Across the country, DA associations are using that power to defeat a wide range of bipartisan reform efforts. Though the criminal justice system has come under increasing scrutiny, these organizations continue to successfully hinder legislative reform. When it comes to criminal justice, associations like DAASNY are largely responsible for the gulf between policy and public opinion.”

  • “The separation of powers is supposed to be sacrosanct, a way to ensure balance and prevent the always looming threat of authoritarianism . . . Prosecutors are supposed to be squarely within the executive realm — tasked with enforcing the law, not making or interpreting it. . . [Yet] prosecutorial power has grown beyond the limits of mere enforcement. In fact, over the past forty years it has ballooned so drastically that prosecutors’ influence has seeped into the other two branches, as well.”

  • “This is why the legislative influence of [prosecutors’] associations is so concerning. It gives prosecutors a stronghold over not only executive and judicial power, but legislative power, as well. More than any other position, prosecutors threaten the traditional balance of powers within the criminal justice system. Ultimately, this more than anything else has shifted tough-on-crime from hypothesis to axiom.”

“Prosecutors Are Banding Together to Prevent Criminal Justice Reform,” The Nation (Oct. 18, 2017)

  • “District attorneys’ associations exist in most states, [adopting] a ‘tough on crime’ stance, advocating for legislation that would give them greater discretion to lock people up. ‘They all too often act as a roadblock to significant reforms . . . In state after state, we’ve seen DA associations hold back reforms that are supported by Democrats and Republicans alike.””

 “The Perverse Power of the Prosecutor,” Democracy: A Journal of Ideas (Feb. 22, 2018)

  • “One of the more important shifts in criminal justice reform over the past five or so years has been a growing awareness of just how powerful and influential prosecutors truly are. Perhaps startled to find themselves under such attention after decades of little to no scrutiny, prosecutors are now pushing back. One common rebuttal prosecutors make is that they don’t actually have that much power. It is the legislature, they argue, which passes the laws and thus really calls the shots. Prosecutors simply impose what the legislature enacts.”

  • “Such claims, however, are quite disingenuous, since they conveniently overlook one of the most important sources of prosecutors’ power: their oversized influence over the legislative process. District attorneys are not passive players in the politics of crime, sitting idly by awaiting their orders from on high. [Prosecutors’ associations] aggressively, and effectively, lobby against reforms they dislike and for new laws that they do. . . . In other words, as reformers start to pay closer attention to the power of prosecutors, they need to keep their eyes not just on how prosecutors have driven up incarceration rates in their day-to-day decisions—like deciding how many people to charge with felony charges or what type of sentence to impose on them during plea bargaining—but also on how they shape the broader politics of criminal justice.”

 “Commentary: ‘Progressive Prosecutors Need to Step Away from DAASNY,” Albany Times Union (Oct. 2, 2018)

  • “The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York (DAASNY) has become, like law enforcement unions, a consistent barrier to criminal justice reform. Despite widespread acknowledgment, from the public and elected officials alike, that there are too many people in jails and prisons across New York and that racial disparities threaten the legitimacy of the entire system, the association has lobbied extensively over the past several years to block any piece of legislation that might improve the status quo. Meanwhile, individual members of DAASNY continue to seek status as national progressive leaders in the field — a credential of growing political saliency that will remain tenuous for any prosecutor attached to this reactionary organization. It's time for them to dump DAASNY.”

 “Philly DA Larry Krasner withdraws office from statewide prosecutors group,” Philadelphia Inquirer (Nov. 16, 2018) 

  • “Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has withdrawn his office from Pennsylvania's largest prosecutors' association, saying the advocacy group has supported regressive or overly punitive policies and represented ‘the voice of the past . . . [and that the] association was at least partly responsible for an explosion in the state's prison population over several decades, and that it continues to back ideas that would make the problem worse." 

 Conviction Integrity

“Fighting Corruption in the US Criminal Justice System,” The American Conservative (Dec. 13, 2018)

  • “There will never be true reform until law enforcement and prosecutors are held accountable for breaking the rules.”

“Promoting Integrity In Conviction Integrity Review,” Huff Post

Progressive Prosecutors in the News

“There’s a New Wave of Prosecutors. And They Mean Justice,” NY Times (Dec. 11, 2018)

  • “Local prosecutors, who handle 95 percent of the criminal cases brought in this country, are well positioned to take reform into their own hands because of their broad discretion over whether and how to prosecute cases and what bail they decide to seek against defendants. And they’re exercising that discretion in new ways. . . . In Chicago, State Attorney Kim Foxx raised the threshold for felony theft prosecution to reduce the number of shoplifters who go to jail. In Philadelphia, the D.A., Larry Krasner, has instructed his prosecutors to make plea offers for most crimes below the bottom end of Pennsylvania’s sentencing guidelines. In Kansas City, Kan., District Attorney Mark Dupree created a unit to scrutinize old cases haunted by questionable police practices despite opposition from local law enforcement.”

“America’s Leading Reform-Minded District Attorney Has Taken His Most Radical Step Yet,” Slate (Dec. 4, 2018)

  • “Larry Krasner continues to build a reputation as the prosecutor who wants to keep people out of prison. Among other head-turning changes, Philadelphia’s district attorney has stopped prosecuting marijuana possession, instructed his 300 assistant district attorneys to stop seeking bail on low-level charges, and had his office begin plea negotiations below the low end of the state’s sentencing guidelines. . . . Recently he further broke into new territory by speaking out about the elephant in the room: violent crime, a classification that most state inmates are in for.”

  • “Krasner has challenged the idea that every person convicted of killing should be sent away for the rest of their lives, which is the mandatory minimum sentence for first- or second- degree murder in Pennsylvania. . . . While comprehensive national comparisons are hard to come by, criminal justice experts view this willingness to lower murder charges as a first of its kind effort among prosecutors in major municipalities.”

  • “‘We are not going to overcharge,’ Krasner told Slate of the new practice. “We are not going to try to coerce defendants. We are going to proceed on charges that are supported by the facts in the case, period. The era of trying to get away with the highest charge regardless of the facts is over.”

  • “This promise represents a 180-degree turn from traditional prosecutorial practice, which is to charge as high as possible no matter the facts in the hopes of negotiating a lower plea deal. This is finally starting to change, and Krasner is leading the way. Inspired by works such as Michelle Alexander’s seminal The New Jim Crow, those who have been in a position to institute some version of criminal justice reform have so far focused on the most sympathetic offenders: those who have committed nonviolent drug crimes. This, though, represents the tip of the iceberg. Even if the country released every single inmate convicted of possession or trafficking, it would only take a relatively small bite out of mass incarceration. Of the 1.3 million inmates held in state prisons in 2016, only about 15 percent were convicted of drug crimes, whereas more than half, 55 percent, were in for violent crimes, according to a Prison Policy Initiative report.”

“In latest edict, Philly DA Larry Krasner tells prosecutors to seek lighter sentences, estimate costs of incarceration,” Philadelphia Inquirer (Mar. 15, 2018)

  • “Offer shorter prison sentences in plea deals. Decline certain classes of criminal charges. And explain, on the record, why taxpayers should fork over thousands of dollars per year to incarcerate people. Those are some of the instructions that Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has outlined for the office's 300 prosecutors — perhaps the boldest set of policies yet of his busy two-month tenure, and in line with his campaign promise to reduce the number of people behind bars.”

  • “’Pennsylvania's and Philadelphia's over-incarceration have bankrupted investment in policing, public education, medical treatment of addiction, job training, and economic development — which prevent crime more effectively than money invested in corrections,’ Krasner wrote in a memo this month to prosecutors that was obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News. ‘Over-incarceration also tears the fabric of defendants' familial and work relationships that tend to rehabilitate defendants who are open to rehabilitation and thereby prevent crime.’ Krasner highlighted one element of the memo at a news conference Thursday: the requirement that prosecutors, when asking a judge to sentence a defendant to prison, specify how much it will cost taxpayers to keep the person behind bars.”

“America's elected DAs are hardly ever held accountable: Cy Vance, like many others, is running unopposed,” NY Daily News (Oct. 17, 2017)

  • “While Vance has denied wrongdoing and there is no proof of any quid pro quo [in the failure to prosecute Harvey Weinstein], Manhattan voters are fuming about the appearance of unequal justice. But they have no alternative to the incumbent on the ballot in the election next month. The reason voters don't have a choice is an open secret in American politics: Local prosecutor elections are a joke. According to one study, 95% of incumbent prosecutors are re-elected, and 85% run unopposed. . . These figures dwarf the incumbency rates of other elected offices and are more typical of less democratic societies.”

  • “Incumbent prosecutors are rarely challenged not because they are universally beloved but because prosecutor elections are like slanted pool tables, tilted in one direction.”

  • “For one, it's hard to find good candidates to challenge a sitting prosecutor. The risk to one's professional livelihood for a quixotic run against an incumbent thins the herd of potential rivals. When the probability of losing to an incumbent is so high, assistant prosecutors may be too timid to challenge their boss, and criminal defense attorneys have clients whose interests they must put before their own.”

  • “Sitting prosecutors can hollow out elections of meaningful campaign themes by preventing the public from evaluating their office's performance. This untransparent approach to elections is consistent with the way they their offices function day-to-day. The vast majority of criminal charges filed in court never reach a jury, and so most of a prosecutor's decisions are made behind closed doors. . . . The public also knows very little about racial disparities in prosecutorial decisionmaking because of how caseload data is recorded and maintained. These policies keep court dockets moving and save courts time, but they jeopardize fundamental principles of justice.”

  • “With their immense power of incumbency, prosecutors have little incentive to let in more daylight. Even those who try to brand themselves as progressive or reform-minded can make it difficult for the public to know what is being done in its name. . . . Prosecutors are at the nexus of our police and our prisons. They are the linchpins of virtually every issue in the criminal justice system in need of change, from police violence to mass incarceration. And yet without a shadow of a real electoral challenge, they remain unaccountable to the communities they serve. Everything should be on the table to make prosecutor elections more democratic, including term limits and campaign finance rules that prevent prosecutors from raising money from criminal defense attorneys.” 

“Cyrus Vance and the Myth of the Progressive Prosecutor,” New York Times (Op-Ed) (Oct. 16, 2017)

  • “‘[L]ike many prosecutors across the country who get credit for changing the game while continuing draconian practices, Mr. Vance simply isn’t the reformer he paints himself as.’ . . . The progressive bombast is meaningless if prosecutors continue to promote the same harsh practices behind the scenes. Instead, voters must look closely at their policies and hold them to high and specific standards. We should ask: Are prosecutors opposing new mandatory minimum sentences during legislative debates? Have they declined to request cash bail in a vast majority of cases? Are they keeping children out of adult court and refusing to seek life-without-parole sentences for them?”

“Prosecutors Keep Their Jobs by Putting People in Jail. Can They Be Leaders in the Fight for Criminal-Justice Reform?,” The Nation (Nov. 14, 2017)

“Five Prosecutors with a Fresh Approach,” New York Times

“A Wiser Generation of Prosecutors,” New York Times (Editorial)

“How a new generation of prosecutors is driving criminal justice reform outside of Congress,” The Hill (op-ed)