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April 10, 2019

Spotlighting the important (and problematic) metrics used by prosecutors

This great New York Law Journal commentary, authored by Rachel Barkow, Lucy Lang, Anne Milgram and Courtney Oliva, is headlined "How We Judge Prosecutors Has to Change." Its subheadline highlights its theme: "Despite a wealth of evidence showing public safety can be improved by connecting people to needed social and health services, the internal metrics of prosecutors’ offices do little to incentivize this course of action."  Here is how the piece gets started:

The criminal justice reform movement has rightfully focused on prosecutors as key actors in bringing about much-needed change.  Dozens of reform-minded prosecutors have been elected throughout the country promising to tackle mass incarceration while keeping their communities safe.  They will not succeed unless they redefine what it means to be a “successful prosecutor.”

Today, local prosecutors measure themselves by three core metrics: how many people are indicted on criminal charges, how many cases they try and how many convictions they secure (either through guilty pleas or convictions after trial). For too long, these metrics have been used to decide promotions and raises, and to confer professional capital, dictating who gets the best cases and whose work is celebrated.

Not surprisingly, then, these are the metrics around which prosecutors orient their work and judge their professional self-worth.  This rewards prosecutors who excel at managing large caseloads and processing people through the system. But these metrics do not necessarily recognize the prosecutors who are most effective at achieving public safety and promoting equality.  These goals require additional metrics.  Decisions about what crimes and people to focus on, and whether or not to incarcerate, matter enormously.  The existing metrics take us further away from the goal of building a better criminal justice system.

April 10, 2019 at 08:38 AM | Permalink


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