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July 17, 2020

"A Vision for the Modern Prosecutor"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new five-page document produced by the Executive Session of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College. Here is the piece's introduction and some key elements:

In the wake of unprecedented and overdue attention on the criminal legal system and its role in our Nation’s legacy of racial injustice, as elected prosecutors and members of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution’s Executive Session on the Role of the Prosecutor, we believe that it is possible to describe and call for an emerging vision for the role of a modern prosecutor.  In doing so, we find it necessary to contrast this vision with a description of the traditional ways that prosecutors have carried out their responsibilities.  In this paper we describe this contrast between traditional practice and a vision of the future by comparing their conceptions of justice, modes of operation, culture, accountability, and metrics. In making these contrasts, we celebrate the power and potential of the current wave of prosecutorial reform that we are witnessing around the country. We have high hopes that this movement will support the broader re-examination of our society’s response to crime and aspiration for justice.

Conceptions of Justice

Traditionally: Prosecutors have defined their role principally as part of a larger criminal justice system that operates with a primary focus on case processing....

We believe the future of prosecution requires that: Prosecutors explicitly set aside this notion of the criminal justice system as a case processing apparatus.... 


Modes of Operation

Traditionally: Prosecutors have been largely reactive....

We believe the future of prosecution requires that: Prosecutors no longer regard themselves as recipients of other actors’ cases or as limited by existing system options with respect to dispositions of those cases....



Traditionally: Prosecutors have been acculturated to consider themselves to be the “us,” and the “good guys,” in an “us vs. them” and “good vs. bad” world....

We believe the future of prosecution requires that: Prosecutors recognize the complexity of the people with whom they engage and of the matters to which they attend....


Accountability and Metrics

Traditionally: Prosecutors have relied on internal, narrow, and often ill-defined standards for judging their performance....

We believe the future of prosecution requires that: Prosecutors develop broad, explicit and transparent standards and expectations for their actions and outcomes....

Prosecutors must make violence and violence prevention a top priority.

July 17, 2020 at 10:47 AM | Permalink


Yeah, I have an immediate problem with anyone saying that the justice system is suffering from "racial" injustice.


The justice system is suffering from injustice.

Stop talking race!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Stop being stupid!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It is not a RACE issue. It is a JUSTICE issue.

Posted by: restless94110 | Jul 18, 2020 6:47:26 PM

I am a career prosecutor and work in a progressive Bay Area County. I have read the “intriguing” vision. Other than the section on culture, quite frankly, I have no idea what this vision is talking about. It really sounds like a bunch of babble. For example, they talk about altering metrics, but their new idea is totally opaque. It’s not clear to me why this kind of silliness is produced.

What I will say, however, is that many of these ideas are not rooted in the adversary system. We have moved to language like stakeholders and criminal justice partners as part of reform efforts, but many of these notions are fundamentally at odds with the adversary model of criminal justice. It’s like standard and metric, they just aren’t compatible.

Posted by: David | Jul 18, 2020 8:38:50 PM

David, I think you get the the heart of the broad reality when you say that the recommended reform often involve a move away from an adversarial model of criminal justice. But I do not think some of the report's particulars are that hard to understand.

For example, the metric section is concerns that prosecutors mostly track and report "cases handled and conviction rates" rather than the "exercise of discretion in filing charges, recommending bail, deciding on plea bargains" and the like. Though there is some jargon and vagueness, your comment highlights that the basic points are coming through.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jul 19, 2020 11:34:21 PM

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