University of Minnesota student Simon Cecil’s Freedom Fund, a nonprofit that aims to level the playing field by helping low-income people post bail has picked up support from local judges. It’s one of 10 similar funds around the country.
University of Minnesota student Simon Cecil's Freedom Fund, a nonprofit that aims to level the playing field by helping low-income people post bail has picked up support from local judges. It’s one of 10 similar funds around the country . . .
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Princeton’s Alan Krueger complained on Twitter about the inefficiencies of his jury-duty experience in New Jersey. Court administrators have been well aware of the problem for decades. So why haven’t they fixed it?
Like many Americans, Princeton economist Alan Krueger was frustrated by the wasted time of his jury-duty experience in New Jersey, reports Quartz. The former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers took to Twitter to vent and to suggest a solution. “It seems to me that this is something that needs to be done scientifically, taking a ‘Moneyball’ approach to how big a group needs to be called in to form a jury.” Courts are well aware of the problem, thanks to a “juror utilization rate” metric that measures just how many potential jurors are called in unnecessarily. In the early 2000s, the metric said 82 percent of those summoned in New York were never selected for trial.
To impanel 12 citizen jurors, you need to call in many more people. In most courts, it’s reasonable to call in between 45 and 60 people, says Paula Agor-Hannaford of the National Center for State Courts.That number can rise dramatically if a case is sensitive or controversial. Hannaford said some jurisdictions have reduced jury pool sizes, but inefficiency is still “a very big problem” in others. “Some courts get really good, and then they get sloppy again,” she says. “Some of these practices don’t get institutionalized well.”
Writer Jessica Pishko singles out Hillar Moore III, the district attorney of East Baton Rouge Parish, La., whose “vaguely progressive rhetoric helps him win elections and brings him national attention.”
In the past few years, a new breed of district attorney in places like Chicago, Orlando and St. Louis have committed to making the American criminal justice system less punitive and more humane, Jessica Pishko writes for Slate. In many other locales, elected prosecutors have sensed the change in tides and adapted their message even as they’ve refused to scrap their outdated methods. These district attorneys talk about reform and perhaps make incremental changes, but they vehemently resist anything resembling a true overhaul of a broken system.
Pishko cites Hillar Moore III, the district attorney of East Baton Rouge Parish, La., whose “vaguely progressive rhetoric helps him win elections and brings him national attention…Moore is one of a long line of prosecutors who came into office talking about changing the system but who quickly resorted to tough-on-crime policies to consolidate their power and prey upon the fears of the public.” She writes that Moore is among a group of “false prophet prosecutors” that included Anita Alvarez in Chicago, Seth Williams in Philadelphia and Tim McGinty in Cleveland. “All of these prosecutors did what Moore is currently doing: spouting off kinder, gentler rhetoric while doling out harsher and harsher punishments,” Pishko writes. “If Hillar Moore wants to keep his job when election time comes three years from now, he needs to show Louisiana he can do more than just say the right thing.”
A $3.5 million MacArthur Foundation grant spurred an effort to reduce the local jail population by one-third over three years. New data shows a 12 percent decline in the initiative’s first year.
Philadelphia is making progress in its bold reform initiative to reduce the local jail population by one-third in three years, reports the city’s Inquirer. The number of inmates has fallen nearly 12 percent, from 7,486 last April to 6,603 as of last month, according to city data. This has been no small task. Philadelphia has the highest per-capita incarceration rate of the 10 largest cities in the nation. About 30 percent of those sitting behind bars are awaiting trial.
A more liberal use of bail has been a key component of the initiative, which was spurred by a $3.5 million grant awarded a year ago by the MacArthur Foundation. Over the last 12 months, 19 pilot initiatives were crafted to address bail problems. Ten have been implemented, with three more — including a rollout of 700 wireless electronic monitoring devices — coming soon. The efforts have earned praise from even hardened critics of the various arms of the local justice system.
Can face-to-face encounters between offenders and the people they hurt make a difference? An innovative strategy in Brooklyn, NY and several other cities is testing the idea that you can reduce incarceration and still reduce violent crime.
Unlike with drugs or other low-level crimes, you never hear the oft-repeated phrase “we can’t incarcerate our way out of the problem” if that problem is violent crime.
But that is beginning to change.
“I realized we are never going to incarcerate ourselves to safety and we are never going to change our communities by only putting people in prison,” Brooklyn (NY) Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez told a Vera Institute panel in Manhattan yesterday.
Violent offenders make up a majority of the U.S. prison population, but discussions of how best to reduce mass incarceration often avoid this thorny and complicated issue. To take a stab at the problem, the Brooklyn DA’s office has one of a small but growing number of programs that are testing the idea that it’s possible to reduce incarceration and lower violent crime simultaneously.
Acting Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez. Courtesy Brooklyn DA’s Office.
Gonzalez’s office has partnered with Brooklyn-based Common Justice, a project of the Vera Institute that operates an alternative-to-incarceration program which brings offenders and victims together with members of their community to reach an agreement about how the responsible person can make amends for their crime.
So far, his office and Common Justice have worked on 70 cases to find alternatives to incarceration that they believe can better serve crime victims — and also hold offenders accountable by making them face people they’ve hurt.
“In Brooklyn, we’ve taken the approach that we can have it all,” Gonzalez said. “We can have public safety, we can have a fairer criminal justice system and we can reduce our overall reliance on incarceration,”.
This idea that a survivor-centered approach can both lower violent crime and reduce incarceration is the focus of a recently released report from Common Justice entitled “Accounting for Justice: How to Increase Safety and Break Our Failed Reliance on Mass Incarceration.”
The report was a focus of a conference hosted by the Vera Institute at Tumblr on 21st Street yesterday, which included the panel at which Gonzalez spoke.
Marlon Peterson of Open Society Foundations called the conference, which brought together criminal justice experts, community workers, crime victims and ex-offenders from all over the country, a “groundbreaking conversation of addressing violence differently.”
To tackle mass incarceration, states and municipalities across the country have in recent years enacted reforms and created programs with alternatives to incarceration for drugs and low-level crimes.
But not violent felonies.
Danielle Sered, director of Common Justice and the author of the reportsaid that discussions on reform need to include violent crime as well. She added that a survivor-centered approach to violent crime will lead to more accountability and a reduction in incarceration.
“We will not end violence until we end mass incarceration,” Sered told the conference. “It’s not just a failed solution to violence, it is generative of violence.”
The report expanded on her argument:
"Regardless of the type of violence in question,U.S. justice systems typically rely on incarceration as the single blunt instrument in their toolbox — all without any data-driven indications that it is the tool most likely to secure the short- and long-term safety of the survivors and others who have a stake in
According to Sered, the assumption that the public and law enforcement want harsh prison sentences for violent offenders is false. She cited a national poll published last year by the Alliance for Safety and Justice which found that About 52 percent of crime victims agreed with the notion that “time in prison makes people more likely to commit another crime rather than less likely.”
“Perhaps for that reason, 69 percent of victims preferred holding people accountable through options beyond prison, such as rehabilitation, mental health treatment, drug treatment, community supervision, or community service,” Sered wrote in the report.
During a panel of crime survivors, Susan Jackson, whose 24-year-old son was murdered, questioned whether the man who killed her son was changed at all during prison.
“Mass incarceration for me, doesn’t work if there’s not a plan in place to rehabilitate,” Jackson said. “If you’re not going to rehabilitate, then what we’re forming here is reincarnation that keeps going on and on and on,”.
Donnell Penny, now a case coordinator at Common Justice, described his own story. He committed a violent crime against someone whom he later sat down with as part of Common Justice’s program.
Sitting down with someone he harmed worked in ways that prison did not, he said.
“What if you had to show ‘I’m sorry’ instead of saying ‘I’m sorry’? You can’t do that in prison,” said Penny. “You cannot answer to your community or the people you hurt from prison.”
The speakers agreed change will take time.
Gonzalez admitted this survivor-centered approach is not something other DA’s in New York or around the country are doing. But he’s trying to transform the system and change the way prosecutors view success.
He said he tells his office to focus on “how many lives you’ve saved” and “how many chances you create for public safety that don’t include incarceration or the metric of wins and losses.”
“I came through a system that really judged me on, ‘Could I win a trial? Could I secure convictions?’ and I’m trying to change that within the office, that culture, and that’s a culture that needs to change in other prosecutors’ offices as well,” Gonzalez said.
“Incarceration in and of itself is ineffective, harmful and excessively expensive. It doesn’t work, it makes you worse and it costs too much,” Muhammad said. “And when we know that is true, and yet continue to use it, that is insanity.”
Adam Wisnieski is a Hartford, CT-based freelance reporter, and a contributing editor of The Crime Report. You can follow him on Twitter @adamthewiz. He welcomes comments from readers.
A unique Massachusetts agency devoted to the analysis of medical errors, inspired by the 1995 death of award-winning Boston reporter Betsy Lehman, could be a model for getting past the bitter debates about who to blame for miscarriages of justice.
Twenty-three years ago, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a prestigious Harvard teaching hospital, killed a 39-year-old woman undergoing experimental breast cancer treatment by giving her massive overdoses of a chemotherapy drug.
She died as she was preparing to leave the hospital and go home to her two daughters, aged 7 and 3. The doctors didn’t listen to her warnings that there was something terribly wrong, and they missed tests indicating heart damage.
The medication error (four times the intended dose) was not discovered until a routine data check by a clerk months later. A second patient had received a similar overdose during the same week. She barely survived.
Betsy Lehman. Courtesy of Betsy Lehman Center (still from video)
There were 28 front-page articles damning the hospital. The Globe editorialized that the mistake wouldn’t have been made by a first-year medical student. A Globe columnist wrote that the overdoses “would make the Three Stooges look like brain surgeons.”
Sometimes, it seems that the criminal justice system generates a comparable front- page tragedy every day—horrific outcomes that no one wanted, inflicting death and trauma.
An officer shoots a deranged schizophrenic in front of his family. An innocent man is wrongly convicted, while the real perpetrator goes free and finds more victims. Dangerous killers are released while harmless low level arrestees wait for years in jail unable to post money bonds, then hang themselves.
The aftermath of these events has become as stylized as Kabuki theater. There are cries for prosecution or discipline of the cop or Assistant District Attorney at the sharp end of the system. This happens, or it doesn’t.
And that’s where things usually end. “Nothing more to see here, move along” becomes the organizing principle.
Until the next time.
The Lehman tragedy, as one writer put it, “became patient safety’s Chernobyl (and) helped lead to the recognition that medical errors are most often caused by system-wide failures rather than by an individual who goofs.”
People thought that if this could happen at Dana-Farber, and to a savvy health reporter, it could happen anywhere, and to anyone.
The Lehman tragedy won’t help us understand the flaws in the criminal justice system if we insist that criminal justice is an issue simply of controlling the streets.
But it provides invaluable lessons if we start to take the word “safety” in “public safety” seriously.
The safety we’re talking about here is everyone’s safety, and it will have to be co-produced by criminal justice operators and the communities they serve.
We want to be safe from violent crime, but also from wrongful convictions.
We want acutely ill mental patients to be safe from police shootings, but we also want passing pedestrians and intervening cops to be safe from armed and poorly medicated schizophrenics who should never have been left untreated in the first place.
We want everyone in our communities to be as safe as possible from the collateral damage that blinkered efforts at crime control inflict. That means being safe from assignment to a reduced form of citizenship in which residents are injured by fruitless, harassing stops and frisks, or extended pretrial detentions, and in which young men are buried under a “permanent CV“ that compiles bogus misdemeanor arrests and makes employment impossible.
Dana-Farber’s initial response to the media firestorm following Betsy Lehman’s death was no model of deftness. Wide discipline was handed out; internal reports were leaked; doctors filed libel suits; lawyers feuded. There was a period of chaos.
But ultimately under public and regulatory pressure, the hospital shifted its entire organization. It began to focus not on the “who?” behind the medication errors but on the “why?”
Dana-Farber recognized that safety should be a core property of its system of care. It gave senior clinical leaders safety responsibility. It recognized a need for a relentless focus on risk, error and harm, and nourished its error-reporting system.
The institute involved front-line practitioners in the design of protective systems: in all-ranks, all-stakeholders, teams that included the community and the families of patients. It recognized safety as something “co-produced” by medical staff and patients.
It made transparency a central goal and, most importantly, it recognized that safety work is never finished; that nothing is permanently “fixed” and that continuous work on quality improvement is the only route to true safety.
This thinking is incubating in criminal justice.
The National Institute of Justice’s Sentinel Events Initiative has promoted an exploration of all-stakeholders (and all-ranks) non-blaming reviews of adverse events and “near misses” and “good catches” where only last-minute luck or exceptional skill avoided a tragedy.
And this is a movement occurring not just at the 30,000-foot level nationally, but also at the grass roots. The City of Tulsa, for example, now recommends that police conduct non-disciplinary peer reviews of critical incidents. There are signs everywhere that versions of the painful lessons Dana-Farber learned are being incorporated into criminal justice.
But there is one tantalizing product of the Lehman tragedy that criminal justice has not yet emulated and might consider: a state or local system-oriented center for carrying out the all-stakeholders work of producing criminal justice safety.
The Betsy Lehman Center is now a small Massachusetts state government agency devoted to patient safety. (The budget is about $1.5 million.)
Its goals are to:
Identify and disseminate information about evidence-based best practices to reduce medical errors and enhance patient safety;
Develop a process for determining which evidence-based best practices should be considered for adoption;
Serve as a central clearinghouse for the collection and analysis of existing information on the causes of medical errors and strategies for prevention; and
Increase awareness of error prevention strategies through public and professional education.
And, strikingly, the Lehman Center’s enabling legislation not only provides a place where practitioners and community stakeholders can focus on safety, it provides a safe place.
Information, accounts, and data collected by or reported to the Lehman Center are not public records, and accordingly not subject to FOIA requests. They are confidential: not subject to subpoena or discovery or being introduced into evidence in any judicial or administrative proceeding, except as otherwise specifically provided by law.
What if we had these in criminal justice? Modest state (or city, or county, or regional) agencies devoted not to punishing the last criminal justice disaster, but to learning how to prevent the next one?
The financial costs of criminal justice mistakes are, at least at this point, nothing like those involved in medical malpractice, but they are not trivial. Cutting the risk of paying for repeated avoidable errors in the future probably makes economic sense.
But there’s more to it than that. Whether a criminal justice mistake costs money or not, it does harm, and it erodes public trust in the law and its officers.
Just as a hospital’s mission is healing, not avoiding lawsuits, the criminal justice system exists to dispense justice, not to evade civil judgments.
Criminal justice life provides many “teaching moments”—good catches, near misses—high frequency/low impact events that don’t implicate worries about damage suits.
Even so, there’s no sense in pretending that the threat of damage suits, professional discipline, and even criminal prosecution does not chill productive discussions of the preventable unintentional slips and errors built into the system.
No system can survive without punishing its conscious rule-breakers and compensating their victims. Those things shouldn’t stop. (The fact is, there are places where there probably aren’t enough disciplinary reactions.)
But explicitly disentangling the forward-looking safety function from disciplinary and punitive processes by giving it a specific place can be an important step in the right direction.
The investment isn’t huge. The pay-off—in terms of avoiding death, trauma, public alienation, (and, yes, multiplied liability payments for future repetitive failures)—might be enormous.
And, paradoxically, providing some measured confidentiality could even increase net transparency too.
Events that might otherwise be shrugged off or buried can be studied (as the NTSB studies transportation disasters) with confidentially gathered information, and their lessons and data then reported to the public in aggregated or carefully anonymized form.
Maybe the most interesting lesson of the Lehman scandal for readers of The Crime Report is the decisive role that the media firestorm over Lehman’s death played in launching the modern patient safety movement.
There was plenty of hunting for scapegoats and villains in the aftermath of the Lehman overdoses.
But the cumulative Lehman coverage, because of the depth and duration of the investigation provided a sustained interrogation of an august institution and its systems. It energized a paradigm shift by teaching people to see that these tragedies aren’t single-cause events created by lone “bad apples.”
Coverage of the next exoneration that comes along could move the criminal justice system in the same way.
If anything is clear from the struggle for safety in industry, aviation and medicine it is that we can’t improve things while acting within our silos. Cops, lawyers, corrections and mental health practitioners, crime survivors, and their communities need a place to work on these things together: to make criminal justice something done with, not “for” or (as it often seems) “to” the communities. They all know this.
The Betsy Lehman Center might provide us with a vision of how to make that ambition real.
Build it, and they will come.
James Doyle is a Boston defense lawyer and author, and a frequent contributor to The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.
Think your password keeps you safe? Think again. A former U.S. Navy cyberspecialist says that unless the feds mandate cybersecurity standards for private companies, the risks to our safety and personal information online will keep growing.
Americans are getting “security theater” instead of genuine protection from attacks by cybercriminals and cyberterrorists, according to a former U.S. Navy investigator who spent seven years tracking down threats to the nation’s defense establishment.
Marie-Helen Maras, author of a new book on “Cybercriminology” and now an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that unless mandatory federal cybersecurity standards are applied to the private companies that dominate our online lives, U.S. consumers will be increasingly vulnerable to the theft or misuse of their personal information—as well as to sabotage of energy and transportation grids and other parts of the nation’s critical infrastructure.
“I don’t think consumers understand how little they are protected in the U.S.,” Maras said in an interview with The Crime Report.
Even the strongest passwords at best just slow down would-be cyber criminals, and the assurances offered by online firms that they will be compensated for losses amount to “security theater,” she told TCR’s executive editor, Stephen Handelman.
Her comments came during an interview on “Criminal Justice Matters,” a monthly program produced by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The program was aired on CUNY-TV in the New York Metro region last week and is now available on YouTube channels.
“It looks like security, but it isn’t,” Maras said, pointing out that while certain health, educational and financial records can secured, the “vast majority of the rest is up for grabs.”
The principal reason for our mounting cyber-vulnerabilities, she added, is the resistance by private companies to any form of government-mandated protection.
Recommended federal standards for cyber-security were published in 2014 following an Executive Order issued by then-President Barack Obama, but a strong lobbying effort by Web firms ensured they remained voluntary. In another step away from consumer protections, Congress voted to nullify FCC privacy rules in March, giving broadband and telecommunications carriers the right to sell and share private consumer data.
“Ideally, we need a law in place where user data is protected,” Maras said. “If companies collect data, use it, sell it, they should be held liable if it is lost.
“The reality is, this isn’t the case today.”
But one trend that may add pressure is a rising awareness that much of the U.S. “critical infrastructure” – water, energy, finance, transport, information technology, and similar systems that affect our daily lives—is now at risk from cybercriminals or cyber-saboteurs. In the U.S. all of those systems are operated by private companies—and many have already experienced serious cyber attacks, said Maras.
According to Maras, federal authorities have identified 16 critical infrastructure sectors that require protection.
Ultimately, she said, the most fail-safe protection is to transform individual components of our infrastructure to “stand-alone” systems. Many of these components are now linked across nationwide networks, so gaining access to one could give would-be saboteurs access to all of them. This is true, for instance, of nuclear plants hooked up to the larger energy grid, said Prof. Maras.
Similarly, the nation needs a new and stronger former of personal identifier than social security numbers, which are easily compromised by identity thieves.
But she conceded that efforts to increase cyberprotection take a second place to Americans’ increasing eagerness to take advantage of the “Internet of Things”— linking their appliances, personal alarm services, lights, mobile phones, and even the locks on their front doors.
“We’re creating a surveillance society that [anyone] can hack into,” she said, noting that many Americans–especially Millennials–are already “de-sensitized” to online threats to their privacy.
Even so, she said, consumers can still make a difference.
“If they demand better protection, they can drive change,” she said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards says task force’s proposals would reduce the state’s nation-leading incarceration rate by 13 percent in a decade. On prosecutor responds: “There is not a single person that we put in prison that doesn’t deserve to be there.”
Louisiana locks up its citizens at a rate 13 times higher than China, five times higher than Iran, and far higher than anywhere else in the U.S., reports Slate. Despite jailing people for nonviolent offenses at twice the rate of South Carolina and three times the rate of Florida, Louisiana’s crime rate is nearly identical to both of those states. Louisiana spends $700 million each year on incarceration, and has a $300 million budget shortfall this year. A bipartisan Justice Reinvestment Task Force created by the legislature has proposed a data-driven approach for fixing the state’s criminal justice system. Gov. John Bel Edwards says the group’s recommendations would reduce the prison population by 13 percent over a decade and save $305 million. Included are broadening alternatives to incarceration, reducing penalties for drug-related crimes, ending life without parole for juveniles and expanding parole eligibility for the state’s oldest prisoners.
The legislature will consider these issues in its annual session that begins next week. The Louisiana District Attorneys Association is opposed. Ascension Parish District Attorney Ricky Babin says, “There is not a single person that we put in prison that doesn’t deserve to be there.” East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore backs locking up elementary school children for up to six months for bringing fake guns to school. Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro pushed for a sentence of 20 years to life for a man who stole $31 worth of candy. (He later agreed to a two-year term.) District attorneys oppose parole consideration for the longest-serving inmates, asserting that such a move “risks public safety.” Actually, studies find that older inmates, especially those over 50, reoffend after release at a small fraction of the rate of youthful offenders. The vast majority of convictions occur between the ages of 20 and 29. The task force’s recommendations don’t amount to a get-out-of-jail-free card. It suggests that only those who have shown “substantial growth” while incarcerated be allowed to re-enter society.
Police and the courts need to dramatically change the way they deal with prostitution, beginning with treating sex workers and trafficking victims as individuals who need counseling and help to remake their lives— rather than as criminals—said an Urban Institute report released today.
Police and the courts need to dramatically change the way they deal with prostitution, beginning with treating sex workers and trafficking victims as individuals who need counseling and help to remake their lives— rather than as criminals—said an Urban Institute report released today.
“The criminalization of prostitution and, more generally, negative interactions with the police discourage the reporting of, and therefore investigation of and response to, violence and exploitation,” declared the report, entitled “Consequences of Policing Prostitution.”
The report’s authors studied 1,413 prostitution-related cases in New York City between February 2015 and March 2016. The study used data from the Exploitation Intervention Project (EIP) operated by The Legal Aid Society in New York, as well as interviews with EIP clients.
In many of the cases, the clients reported being subjected to verbal abuse, racial profiling and even propositioning by police officers.
A 44-year-old black female, for example, reported being paraded with handcuffs in front of officers after she was arrested: “It was like a show…., They were laughing and it was fun, it was fun for them, it was a good night.”
Some 84% of the EIP’s clients analyzed for the study were individuals of color, and many had histories of being sexually abused. More than one-third had been or were currently being trafficked.
Criminalizing prostitution impedes an individual’s chances to find housing or gainful employment that would enable them to find alternatives, the study said.
The treatment of sex trafficking victims in particular was criticized by the authors, Meredith Dank of John Jay College of Criminal Justice; and Jennifer Yahner and Lily Yu of the Urban Institute.
“Entrenching anti-trafficking efforts in the policing of prostitution is harmful,” they wrote, noting that trafficking victims are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, and should be provided with counseling rather than putting them in handcuffs.
“Trafficking prevention…necessarily starts with economic and gender justice and involves preventing homelessness, family violence, child abuse, and all sexual abuse and assault.”
The study, one of the first to systematically examine the backgrounds and outcomes of people criminalized for prostitution within a single jurisdiction, was assisted by Kate Mogulescu and Katie Beth White of The Legal Aid Society of New York.
Although it recommended that authorities de-criminalize prostitution, it also suggested initial steps that courts and police could take to that would have the same effect:
Police could cease arresting people for prostitution or send individuals to court-based prostitution diversion programs, where their charges could be dismissed as “if they never happened, so participants can immediately move forward unburdened by negative consequences of an arrest or conviction record.”
Judges should be careful not to “impose further stigma, embarrassment, or danger on those facing criminal charges on prostitution offenses through language, comments, or imposing assumptions or judgment.”
In one ominous note suggesting a growing problem in New York City, the study also found that the number of Asian individuals arrested in connection with both unlicensed massage and prostitution charges increased by over 2,700 percent between 2012 and 2016—from 12 to 36 cases.
The report is available here.
This summary was prepared by TCR intern Davi Hernandez
The Association of Prosecuting Attorneys sets guidelines for investigations of use-of-force incidents that it says should ensure they are “transparent, objective and beyond reproach.”
A national group of prosecutors has reached agreement on best practices for handling police use of force cases. The Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA), an organization of both elected and appointed prosecutors, issued a detailed set of guidelines that it calls the “21st Century Principles of Prosecution.”
The guidelines include “promising practices for investigating use of force cases, ensuring the integrity of use of force prosecutions, and promoting equal justice and safer communities.”
The group drafted its report after a committee of prosecutors held meetings in Kansas City, Philadelphia, Portland, Or., and Austin, Tx., speaking to religious, community and law enforcement leaders. APA said its members “heard anger, frustration and disillusionment about the current state of the criminal justice process.”
Both police and prosecutors have faced extensive public criticism for the way several controversial police shootings have been handled in recent years.
These included the killings of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown in St. Louis and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland in 2014. Prosecutors did not file criminal charges against the police officers involved in either case, prompting widespread protests.
The prosecutors concluded from their meetings around the nation that there is “an erosion of public faith in the criminal justice system, including the investigations and prosecutions of use of force cases. The public may be increasingly distrustful of the independence of the prosecutor’s office in holding all offenders accountable, and in ensuring fair and equal justice for all, regardless of position or power.”
The prosecutors’ statement comes soon after the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Fraternal Order of Police and other major law enforcement groups issued their own “consensus” statement on use of force incidents in January.
Like the document issued by the police groups, the new prosecutors’ agreement is not binding on the more than 3,000 independently elected prosecutors around the nation.
Still, it is likely to get a close look as prosecutors seek to increase public support for the way they handle accusations against officers. Because prosecutors work so closely with the police in day-to-day criminal cases, they often are accused of giving officers too much leeway to abuse civilians.
APA said it based its new document on four main points: respect for human dignity, independent investigation and prosecution decision making, responsible transparency, and procedural fairness and justice.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, a member of APA’s President’s Advisory Council and himself a former police chief, said in issuing the new report that “distrust in law enforcement is an impediment to effective policing and public safety. As prosecutors we share a responsibility for keeping our communities safe, therefore we share a responsibility to cure the distrust.”
He continued, “By ensuring these investigations are transparent, objective and beyond reproach, we can restore the community’s trust that anyone who violates the law will be held accountable-even those who wear a uniform.”
The APA document includes suggested guidance on how prosecutors should act at each stage of a use-of-force case, and even before an incident arises.
For example, it recommends that prosecutors should initiate the development of memorandums of understanding with law enforcement agencies and other criminal justice agencies and government offices “to define the general roles and responsibilities of all applicable parties at each and every stage of the case.”
At the conclusion of a case, APA says, “prosecutors should endeavor to communicate all appropriate information to the public, but prosecutors cannot make statements or release evidence likely to prejudice the outcome of the investigation or subsequent trial.”
If no charges are filed, APA says, “prosecutors may wish to explain that a decision not to proceed with criminal charges is not an indictment of the injured party or their conduct or an approval of the conduct of the officer or officer involved, and that such a decision does not preclude civil or federal criminal remedies.”
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.