WASHINGTON (April 3)-In recent years, so-called progressive or reform-minded prosecutors have received much attention in the news media.
In a new policy study, R Street Senior Fellow Lars Trautman explains how these prosecutors can achieve their goals by using better prosecutorial data to advance criminal justice reform more broadly.
Because prosecutors are so powerful, it is generally assumed that inequitable outcomes result from deliberate prosecutorial action. Trautman argues that the overwhelming majority of prosecutors—not just the progressive or reform-minded ones—are trying to achieve just outcomes, but are often deprived of the information and tools to do it. Data is the key to closing this gap between good intentions and positive results.
Prosecutorial data investments prove that criminal justice reform is not a zero-sum game: Helping prosecutors can also mean helping defendants. For example, data on case dispositions can help prosecutors identify which cases they can dismiss or decline to file in the first place. This means fewer defendants and reduced caseloads—a win-win for prosecutors and defendants.
The author notes that increasing prosecutorial capabilities may seem like a counterintuitive way to support criminal justice reform, but asserts that data investment is a successful strategy for advancing numerous reform goals. These include addressing inequitable racial and ethnic disparities, reducing the number of case filings and increasing the use of alternatives to detention.
The author concludes, “whether prosecutors are seeking to change how the justice system works or just their own office, data should be a tool of first resort.”