“Prosecutors have a real moment at this time to step up and make a big change, to really lead in this effort, to be really innovative and forthright in their intentions, to reduce mass incarceration, to address racial disparity in the system, to look for alternatives to oppressive sanctions. We missed so many things, and now is the moment.”
--Meg Reiss, Chief of Social Justice, Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office
Do you know that the person with the most power in the courtroom is not the judge? More likely it is the Prosecutor. It is she who decides to plea bargain and what those terms will be or whether charges will be brought or not and what penalty will be asked for if the Defendant is convicted by the jury.
In November 2018 at John Jay College there was a symposium given by the Pinkerton Foundation: Just Prosecution: Redefining the Role of the 21st Century Prosecutor in Youth Justice Reform. Before we started the afternoon discussions, there was a re-entry simulation (re-entry into the community) in the morning. Real-life Prosecutors were put in the position of someone released from prison, and it was their job to meet all of their court obligations as well as find a job, find a place to live, buy food, pay their debts, and so on. If they did not meet their court obligations, they would be – warm my heart – put back in jail. These prosecutors had a first-hand experience that was a real eye-opener by their own admission. Quite a few ended up back in jail – including me, the only mentally ill person in the room who got a break occasionally – and few reached the services set up to help them. Some turned to crime to meet their obligations. And, as a result, all of them saw how hard it is for a justice-involved individual to walk the straight and narrow. Hopefully they will take this experience into the future as they work with real inmates in the courtroom.