Prosecuting Attorneys Can Embrace Smart Justice Values

Prosecuting attorneys in Michigan have more opportunity and power than any other elected official to make immediate changes to reduce incarceration rates and to combat the systemic racism that characterizes our carceral system. A prosecuting attorney determines the policies and procedures that dictate how cases are prosecuted in a county, how diversion programs are implemented, how plea deals are negotiated, and ultimately how many residents sit behind bars.

Importantly, prosecutors are influential at the state legislature and can use their collective voice to encourage lawmakers to pass sensible, effective, bipartisan criminal legal reforms while rejecting proposed laws that take us backward–the way current laws like mandatory minimum sentences, harsh habitual-offender statutes, and unnecessary sentencing enhancements have wreaked havoc on communities and strained our criminal legal system.

Many prosecuting attorneys across the nation are doing exactly this. A movement of recently elected reform-minded county and district attorneys implemented bold policies on the first day of their administrations–which is evidence that voters are ready for these changes. These positive changes have had an immediate impact reducing jail and prison populations and created a structural framework to tackle racism in the criminal legal system.

The welcome wave of transformational prosecutors is supported nationally by professional groups that provide policy advice and camaraderie for prosecutors committed to implementing a reform agenda. Organizations like Fair and Just Prosecution, Institute for Innovation in Prosecution, Prosecutor Impact, and others are helping newly-elected prosecutors succeed in reducing incarceration and tackling racial injustice.