Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen’s assertion in his Nov. 28 Thursday Opinion essay, “Prosecutors who won’t enforce the law,” that local prosecutors ought to prosecute vigorously “quality of life” crimes displayed a view of prosecution that is ineffective and heavy-handed. To one who has never served as a state or local prosecutor, a simple strategy in which every broken law results in a criminal prosecution may be appealing. But as I discovered as an assistant district attorney in Essex County, Mass., even seemingly straightforward violations usually stem from more complex causes, including homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse. Failing to address these underlying issues — or pretending that a jail will — usually does little more than ensure future prosecutions will be necessary.
Using an alternative to prosecution is not the nonresponse that Mr. Rosen portrayed it to be. Prosecutors can still initiate a host of interventions, such as diversion, treatment, community service and restitution. These responses have the added benefit of freeing up prosecutorial resources for the pursuit of more serious offenses. Officials seeking to support prosecutors who “enforce the law fairly and keep the public safe” should therefore hail rather than castigate these recent prosecutorial reforms.