« Despite Sixth Circuit approval of existing execution protocol, Ohio Gov Mike DeWine signals his plans to delay another scheduled execution | Main | Prez Trump kicks off series of speeches on criminal justice reform by touting FIRST STEP Act »

October 25, 2019

"Tipping the Scales: Challengers Take On the Old Boys' Club of Elected Prosecutors"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting short report from the Reflective Democracy Campaign. Here is how it gets started:

After someone gets arrested, a prosecutor holds the power over what happens next.  Charge the defendant, or release them?  Charge them with a felony, or a misdemeanor? Since the vast majority of cases don’t go to trial, it’s mostly prosecutors — not judges — who determine whether defendants go to prison and for how long.  In the words of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, a prosecutor “has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America.”

In 2014, as a prosecutor in Ferguson failed to indict the police officer who killed Michael Brown, we were conducting our historic study of the race and gender of prosecutors. What we found made headlines:  95% of prosecutors were white, and 79% were white men.  Perhaps most alarming, most prosecutors ran for office unopposed, leading to an entrenched status quo which is highly resistant to bipartisan calls for criminal justice reform.

With race and gender inequality baked into the criminal justice system, repairing the broken demographics of prosecutorial power is an urgent goal, and the data are clear:When voters have a choice, they reject the white male status quo.  Competitive elections for prosecutor can fix the demographic crisis and level the playing field for system reform.

Five years after our initial analysis of elected prosecutors, we returned to see how their demographics have — and haven’t— changed.  Here’s what we found:

White control of elected prosecutor positions has not changed: In 2015, prosecutors were 95% white. In 2019, they are still 95% white.

The gender (im)balance of elected prosecutors is changing: While nearly 75% of prosecutors are white men, women have increased at a rate of 34% since 2015, from 18% to 24% of prosecutors.

Change is possible — when there is competition: Prosecutors run unopposed 80% of the time, but in competitive races, the old boys' club starts to give away. White male over-representation is rampant, but not unsolvable.

When women of all races and men ofcolor run for prosecutor in competitive elections, they're more likely to win than white men: In competitive 2018 elections, white men were 69% of candidates, but only 59% of winners. Women and people of color were 31% of candidates and 41% of winners.

Despite overall low numbers, women of color are making notable gains: There are nearly 50% more women of color prosecutors today as in 2015.

October 25, 2019 at 03:19 PM | Permalink


In addition, the AGE of prosecutors is a problem. Where I live, the average age of a prosecutor is 55+. I have found they are out of touch with many things (having been an assistant prosecutor myself), which only reinforces the status quo. Age is just as problematic for prosecutors as it is for judges. Both begin to not care about the law, only the paycheck.

Posted by: MKS | Oct 25, 2019 4:16:52 PM

Excellent point, MKS!

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 25, 2019 10:40:57 PM

Odd, The "alarming" statistics find:

"When women of all races and men of color run for prosecutor in competitive elections, they're more likely to win than white men"

And that is alarming because . . .?

From 2009-2019

86% of lawyers were white, 5% black
65% were men, 35% women

Refective democracy.

source ABA

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Oct 26, 2019 9:46:34 AM

The issue with older prosecutors (at least in my experience) is not so much that they are only in for a paycheck but the same problem that you have with older people in any profession -- simple inertia. While CLEs (or the equivalent in medicine or accounting or engineering) can assure that older professionals are informed of new developments, having knowledge of new developments is significantly different from internalizing those developments and truly adjusting your practices. I have seen a lot of older attorneys on both sides who insist that the case that they remember from 1980 is the controlling case on an issue notwithstanding new statutes and new opinions on that issue since 1980. I don't think that is a conservative or progressive thing, just an age thing, as I have seen older judges who are as resistant to new legislation increasing the range of punishment for an offense as they are to new rules encouraging the use of non-cash alternatives to the traditional surety bond.

Posted by: tmm | Oct 28, 2019 11:02:52 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB