Prosecutors, Reentry and Public Safety
Date:  10-03-2019

Prosecutors should not just focus on the front-end of the criminal justice system, but also care about reentry and reducing recidivism
From the introduction of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution report Prosecutors, Reentry and Public Safety

As democratically-elected officials who are accountable to their communities, prosecutors must ensure that their charging and sentencing policies promote public safety and just outcomes for everyone, including those communities who disproportionately feel the impact of crime and incarceration. To date, most prosecutors have primarily focused their work at the front-end of the criminal justice system—from the initial investigation and charging of a case through to its disposition, which can include seeking sentences of incarceration.

On some level, this is unsurprising. As one of the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system, prosecutors exercise considerable control over the life cycle of a criminal case. But this discretion operates primarily, if not exclusively, at the front-end of the system. One result of this front-end focus is that prosecutors evaluate themselves and their office based on their case filings and conviction rates. Such a narrow focus on a prosecutor’s front-end role overlooks an important reality: prosecutorial discretion exercised during the life cycle of a criminal case can have repercussions that last long after a case is “closed.” These repercussions can negatively impact a person’s trajectory in the justice system over the long run. A front-end focus on prosecutorial decision making also disincentives prosecutors to expand their frame to consider what happens to individuals after they are sentenced.

Ignoring barriers to reentry also undermines just outcomes, particularly for low-income As democratically-elected officials who are accountable to their communities, prosecutors must ensure that their charging and sentencing policies promote public safety and just outcomes for everyone, including those communities who disproportionately feel the impact of crime and incarceration. To date, most prosecutors have primarily focused their work at the front-end of the criminal justice system—from the initial investigation and charging of a case through to its disposition, which can include seeking sentences of incarceration. On some level, this is unsurprising. As one of the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system, prosecutors exercise considerable control over the life cycle of a criminal case. But this discretion operates primarily, if not exclusively, at the front-end of the system. One result of this front-end focus is that prosecutors evaluate themselves and their office based on their case filings and conviction rates. Such a narrow focus on a prosecutor’s front-end role overlooks an important reality: prosecutorial discretion exercised during the life cycle of a criminal case can have repercussions that last long after a case is “closed.” These repercussions can negatively impact a person’s trajectory in the justice system over the long run. A front-end focus on prosecutorial decision making also disincentives prosecutors to expand their frame to consider what happens to individuals after they are sentenced.

Ignoring barriers to reentry also undermines just outcomes, particularly for low-income communities and communities of color. Prosecutors’ decisions can lead to a criminal record and/or a sentence of incarceration, which can actually undermine public safety and justice over the long haul due to the burdensome consequences. Common sense and equity suggest that these unintended results must be factored into prosecutorial decision-making. But too often, these consequences are either not recognized when a prosecutor makes charging and/or sentencing decisions or they are not incorporated into office policy.

Read the report here.