Issues / A New Vision for the Justice System

At Fair and Just Prosecution, we believe more can be done to enhance accountability and transparency, move beyond past incarceration-driven approaches, and develop policies that promote a more equitable justice system.

Information and Resources

21 Principles for the 21st Century Prosecutor

Fair and Just Prosecution (FJP) – in partnership with Yale Law School Senior Research Scholar Emily Bazelon, The Justice Collaborative and Brennan Center for Justice – coauthored 21 Principles for the 21st Century Prosecutor, a blueprint for elected prosecutors seeking to move away from past incarceration-based approaches and advance new pathways that promote equity, compassion and prevention-oriented responses within the criminal justice system. 21 Principles for the 21st Century Prosecutor offers concrete steps prosecutors can take to reduce incarceration, increase equity and fairness, and make communities safer and healthier.

Why Attacks on Prosecutorial Discretion Are Attacks on Democracy

JAN. 2024 – For far too long, communities across the country have been devastated by an unnecessarily harsh criminal legal system that prioritizes excessive punishment over long-term public safety. As increasing numbers of voters nationwide elect leaders committed to a more just legal system, some lawmakers and critics wedded to the failed status quo have taken unprecedented measures to impede the changes communities want. In the American Criminal Law Review, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky and Director of Strategic Initiatives Rebecca Blair examine the history of prosecutorial discretion and how recent unfounded attacks on reform-minded prosecutors are part of a wider assault on the democratic right of voters to have a say in the justice system.

“[W]hen presented with an alternative vision, many communities began embracing change and voting for reformers…. [S]uddenly, state-level officials who never so much as raised an eyebrow at prosecutors who used their discretion to convict innocent people or pursue draconian prison sentences stepped in and declared that prosecutorial discretion had gone too far.”

New Directions in Prosecutorial Reform

MAY 2023 – As communities around the country have continued to call for change in the criminal legal system, many have recognized that elected prosecutors have a critical role to play in leading the way. Over the past decade, reform-minded district attorneys have been elected throughout the nation and now represent nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population. In the American Criminal Law Review, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky, New York Law School Associate Professor Justin Murray, and Tulane University Professor of Law Maybell Romero explore the growth and accomplishments of the reform-minded prosecutor movement, even in the face of significant pushback from those committed to past failed tough-on-crime approaches.

“Despite…attempts to limit the ability of reform-minded prosecutors to enact meaningful change, the movement continues to grow in response to the critical need for criminal legal reform and the demands of communities who are tired of business as usual.”

FJP Joins Trial Penalty Coalition to Restore the Constitutional Right to Trial

MAY 3, 2023 – Fair and Just Prosecution is part of the new Trial Penalty Coalition (TPC), a group of criminal justice leaders and organizations, impacted people, think tanks, academics, activists, and reform leaders from across the ideological spectrum that have united to end the trial penalty – the substantial and coercive difference between the sentence in a plea offer prior to trial versus the much greater sentence a defendant often receives after trial. For more, visit the TPC website, read the TPC policy recommendations, and read FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky’s statement on the launch of the coalition.

“There is no justice in coercive plea offers that result in people pleading guilty – even when they may have a strong defense – due to the threat of a significantly harsher punishment following any trial. And there is no justice in a system that incentivizes innocent people to plead guilty. These practices undermine the legitimacy of our entire criminal legal system.”

Issues at a Glance Brief: Plea Bargaining

FEB. 2022 – Around 97% of federal convictions and 94% of state felony convictions are obtained through a guilty plea, but plea bargaining often involves coercive tactics that have fueled over-incarceration, and the plea process has hardly any oversight in the United States. This “Issues at a Glance’ brief from FJP and Fair Trials describes how elected prosecutors can take immediate action to ensure their offices’ plea bargaining practices promote and protect due process, fairness, and transparency. For more, read the release on this brief.

“All too often in the United States, the plea process implicates due process concerns, fuels mass incarceration and exacerbates racial disparities. Prosecutors have the power to make plea bargaining more fair and just, and we need more leaders to step up and take action.”
– FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky

Over 100 Criminal Justice Leaders Call on the Biden Administration to Establish a Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Prosecution

AUG. 21, 2021 – A bipartisan group of over 100 respected leaders in prosecution and law enforcement sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to establish a Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Prosecution that would catalyze innovation in the criminal legal system nationwide and chart a path to greater justice and equity in all communities. The letter coincided with the release of Fair and Just Prosecution’s new white paper, “The Case for a Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Prosecution,” which outlines why this effort is urgent for ending mass incarceration and fortifying trust in our justice system. For more, read the letter, white paper, and release, as well as this letter to President Biden in support of the task force from crime survivors, victim assistance professionals, and allied providers.

“The American people have demanded change. The rallying cry to transform our criminal legal system stretches from the streets to across the political aisle. We urge the Biden-Harris Administration to seize this moment and create a Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Prosecution soon; our communities are urging us all to act.”

How the Biden-Harris Administration Can Advance Criminal Justice Reform in the First 100 Days

DEC. 2020 – With Inauguration Day almost here and the ongoing calls for change to our criminal legal system, we continue to highlight how the Biden-Harris administration can move us towards the vision of justice that Americans need and deserve. “How the Biden-Harris Administration Can Advance Criminal Justice Reform: Proposals for the First 100 Days” discusses how the new administration can immediately make an impact in the first 100 days through administrative or executive action.

“Being tougher on crime is easy…. Being smart on crime is a challenge.”
-Nueces County (Corpus Christi, TX) District Attorney Mark Gonzalez

How the Biden-Harris Administration Can Advance Criminal Justice Reform

NOV. 2020 – After a year and election cycle that brought unprecedented progress for reform-minded prosecution, fair drug policy, and better policing practices, President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris will enter office with a mandate to transform the justice system. In “How the Biden-Harris Administration Can Advance Criminal Justice Reform: 13 Recommendations for Change and Federal Engagement,” we lay out key ways the new administration can take action to make progress towards the justice system that Americans overwhelmingly demand and that all communities in our nation deserve.

“This transition comes at a time when our nation, and particularly communities of color, have been devastated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic…. At the same time, the tragic deaths of George Floyd and so many others at the hands of police have heightened the need to address – once and for all – the systemic racism that pervades all parts of our criminal legal system. These intersecting crises underscore the need to bring new thinking, and leadership, to criminal justice reform.”

FJP Bail Reform Brief

SEPT. 2017 – Local prosecutors can help make communities safer and the justice system fairer by supporting the elimination of a money bail system, which penalizes defendants who cannot afford to post bond. Prosecutors should, instead, support a presumption of release where individuals present no risk of flight or danger to the community. This FJP “Issues at a Glance” brief discusses the prosecutor’s role in reforming the money bail system to reduce pretrial incarceration and its potentially counterproductive effect on public safety and recidivism.

FJP Marijuana Policy Reform Brief

SEPT. 2017 – Prosecutors can help reduce overly punitive responses to marijuana and other drug charges. This FJP “Issues at a Glance” brief discusses the prosecutor’s role in marijuana policy reform and provides guidance to prosecutors considering approaches that promote a more equitable justice system, save resources and avoid criminalizing individuals struggling with drug addiction. The brief includes recommendations for prosecutors’ offices based on the wide spectrum of approaches in place around the nation — from cite-and-release programs to the legalization of marijuana.

For other FJP “Issues at a Glance” Briefs, click here.

Speaking Out

How Criminal Justice Reform Makes Communities Safer and Healthier

AUG. 23, 2023 – After decades of failed tough-on-crime policies, we must embrace a new vision of justice to create lasting public safety. In the first video of our “Reform Makes Us Safer” series, elected prosecutors from across the nation explain how transforming the criminal legal system will build stronger and healthier communities by investing in people instead of punishment.

“Reform makes us safer when we actually do the work that the community needs and when we turn away from policies that damage the community.”
– Augusta, GA District Attorney Jared Williams

Bring back the jury trial

JUNE 15, 2023 – The right to a trial is enshrined in the 6th Amendment, but as caseloads expanded in the era of mass incarceration, jury trials all but disappeared, as the system came to rely on guilty pleas to resolve cases. Now, the system routinely punishes those who exercise this constitutional right with a ‘trial penalty’ – the difference between the sentence attached to a plea offer versus the much greater sentence an individual may receive if convicted by a jury. This inequity prompted the formation of the Trial Penalty Coalition, a group of organizations and individuals united around ending this coercive and unjust practice. In an op-ed in The Crime Report, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky explains the concerning consequences of coercive plea bargaining and the trial penalty and why we must act now to address it.

“Over the last half-century, the U.S. has embraced plea bargaining as a way of maintaining a justice system that is so massive, it leaves no room for due process. We now have a choice: we can continue chipping away at constitutional rights to make way for more prisons and punishment, or we can do what it takes to build a justice system that lives up to the promises it was founded on.”

To achieve public safety, invest in communities – not cages

MARCH 21, 2023 – A dangerous and disheartening backlash to justice reform – predicated on misinformation and an effort to resurrect failed tough-on-crime tactics – has sadly led to the defeat of a ten-plus year effort to reform DC’s outdated criminal code. But as FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky and Communications Director Alyssa Kress explain in this op-ed in Marketwatch, creating safe and healthy communities requires embracing evidence-backed reforms that reduce incarceration rates and shift resources from punishment to prevention.

“Fear should not cause us to repeat the mistakes of the past. When politicians finally decide to care more about protecting people than protecting their own power, only then will we finally achieve the safety that all communities deserve.”

More Than 65 Elected Prosecutors Pledge to Visit Their Local Correctional Facilities

JAN. 18, 2023 – As part of FAMM’s #VisitAPrison pledge, 66 elected prosecutors, including a number of recently elected DAs, committed to personally visit the correctional facilities in which individuals prosecuted by their offices are placed and to require all prosecutors in their offices to do the same. Prosecutors greatly influence whether someone becomes incarcerated, but many have never set foot inside a prison or jail and do not fully understand how dehumanizing conditions of confinement can impact an individual’s rehabilitation efforts – and in turn, the safety of the communities to which they return. Read the joint statement and release, as well as a reflection from Ramsey County (St. Paul, MN) Attorney John Choi recounting the impact local correctional facility visits have had on his office.

“As a recently elected county attorney, it’s important to me that our staff fully understand the consequences and impact on an individual and the community when they ask for a jail or prison sentence. That empathy and understanding is not possible without seeing our local correctional facilities up close and speaking to those who live and work in them.”
– Hennepin County (Minneapolis, MN) Attorney Mary Moriarty

2023 Presents Reform Opportunities for Prosecutors Across the Nation

JAN. 6, 2023 – Last year, voters across the country demonstrated their continuing appetite for justice reform with the election and re-election of inspiring local prosecutors who are leading the charge on transforming the criminal legal system. In an op-ed in The Crime Report, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discusses the successes of the reform-minded prosecutor movement in 2022 and looks ahead to opportunities for reform in 2023, from addressing extreme sentences and holding police accountable to promoting reproductive justice and providing transparency through data.

“The fight for smart, effective and humane criminal justice reforms must continue as urgently as ever in 2023 – and prosecutors have the unique opportunity to lead the charge.”

Memo to Prosecutors: Visit Your Local Prison

JULY 25, 2022 – Elected prosecutors hold immense power over who is sent to prison and for how long, yet many have never visited a correctional facility. In this op-ed in The Crime Report, Nueces County, TX District Attorney Mark Gonzalez, Portsmouth, VA Commonwealth Attorney Stephanie Morales, and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky explain why every prosecutor should #VisitAPrison and see firsthand the harsh reality of mass incarceration.

“It’s not hard to miss when you visit a correctional facility how the carceral starting point that epitomizes the American criminal legal system can inhibit rehabilitation and successful return to the community. People are not just stripped of their freedom, but of their very humanity.”

Over 60 Elected Prosecutors Pledge to Visit Their Local Correctional Facilities

JULY 11, 2022 – As part of FAMM’s #VisitAPrison challenge, 64 elected prosecutors pledged to personally visit the correctional facilities in which individuals prosecuted by their offices are placed and to require all prosecutors in their offices to do the same. Prosecutors hold immense influence over whether someone becomes incarcerated and for how long, but many have never set foot inside a prison or jail and do not fully understand how conditions of confinement can impact an individual’s rehabilitation efforts, and in turn, the safety of the communities to which they return. Read the pledge and release.

“We cannot pursue justice while ignoring the reality and complications of living behind bars. I urge every prosecutor and policymaker to take this pledge and obtain an unfiltered and personal review of the circumstances of incarceration. It was a transformative experience for me.”
– Fort Bend County, TX District Attorney Brian Middleton

How (Some) Prosecutors Changed the Face of Justice in 2021

DEC. 7, 2021 – Reform-minded prosecutors represent around 20 percent of Americans, and the strength of this movement grows with each election cycle as voters increasingly realize that the outdated policies of mass incarceration have deepened racial inequality, placed enormous burdens on taxpayers, and failed to keep communities safe. In an op-ed in The Crime Report, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky describes how reform-minded prosecutors elected in 2020 have made their mark in their first year in office and calls on President Biden to create a Task Force on 21st Century Prosecution to solidify, support, and expand on this success.

“As we usher in 2022, inspiring reform-minded prosecutors will continue to advance a more equitable and just criminal legal system. We hope the Biden Administration will provide support for this work in the year to come and that communities will continue to pay attention to their local prosecutors and grow this movement as it propels meaningful and lasting change.”

Stop obstructing criminal justice reforms. It’s making us all less safe.

OCT. 25, 2021 – Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón’s decision to eliminate most sentencing enhancements has been met with fierce backlash from proponents of “tough-on-crime” policies who continue to sell the public a false promise that more punishment means more safety. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, former LA County District Attorneys Gil Garcetti and Ira Reiner and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discuss how DA Gascón’s policies – which are backed by the voters – will make communities safer, decrease burdens on taxpayers, and contribute to a fairer system for all.

“Those committed to the ‘tough-on-crime’ policies of the past must recognize that more incarceration is not the answer, and that continuing to obstruct this new vision of justice only makes us all less safe.”

Biden’s ‘Quiet Revolution’ Puts More Public Defenders on Federal Bench

OCT. 18, 2021 – Historically, prosecutors have been significantly overrepresented in the federal judiciary, but President Biden is making important inroads in diversifying the bench. In this Crime Report op-ed, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot and Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton – both former judges – join FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky to highlight why having more public defenders in the federal judiciary is essential to a fair and equitable criminal legal system.

“Those of us who care about fixing our broken criminal legal system should offer our enthusiastic support for these efforts to nominate judges from all parts of our profession, and call out unfair attacks when they come, so that we can build the balanced and diverse judiciary that communities deserve and that benefits all of us.”

Voters want progressive prosecutors. Biden must follow through on promise to guide reform.

AUG. 22, 2021 – Across the country, communities aren’t buying the “tough on crime” policies of the past and are instead doubling down on programs and leaders confronting the causes of crime and investing in preventing violence before it occurs. In this USA Today op-ed, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discuss why President Biden must create lasting change to our criminal legal system by building on this community-based movement and investing in prosecution reform through a Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Prosecution.

“By providing the nation’s 2,400 local and state prosecutors a deeper understanding of the harm of mass incarceration and data-based mechanisms for change, the administration could push our criminal legal system to create more just policies and address its inherent systemic inequities.”

How Joe Biden can root out racism in criminal justice

DEC. 25, 2020 – After an election that delivered Joe Biden a historic win and saw voters in red and blue states alike back criminal justice reforms, the president-elect has a mandate to implement systemic change. On day one, the new administration can immediately enact a number of policies that will significantly advance racial justice, especially in the areas of drug policy, juvenile justice, second chances, and police accountability. In this CNN op-ed, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky share how President-elect Biden can make full use of his authority to usher in a new vision of justice, starting on day one.

“For decades, elected leaders sought to portray themselves as ‘tough on crime’ through misguided choices…that eroded trust with communities, while cementing racial oppression and mass incarceration. This election revealed that many people now see these policies as grave errors.”

“There’s a Wave of New Prosecutors. And They Mean Justice.”

DEC. 11, 2018 – In a New York Times op-ed, New York Times Magazine staff writer Emily Bazelon and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discuss the growing wave of reform-minded elected prosecutors, as well as 21 Principles for the 21st Century Prosecutor.

“Fairness and safety aren’t a tradeoff. They complement each other. This new corps of prosecutors can lead the way toward doing more justice with more mercy.”
– FJP EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR MIRIAM KRINSKY AND NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE STAFF WRITER EMILY BAZELON

Prosecutive Winds Of Change

JUNE 7, 2017 – King County (Seattle, WA) Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky underscore the important role of prosecutors in promoting a sensible and fair justice system and describe how newly elected local prosecutors are pushing the criminal justice system away from “tough on crime” attitudes and toward new prevention-oriented thinking. Read more here.

“These district attorneys realize what the last 30 years of criminal justice practice has revealed: harsh sentences do not deter crime, and instead, disproportionately impact the poor and people of color.”

Law and the New Order: A Fresh Wave of District Attorneys is Redefining Justice

MARCH 22, 2017 – Looks at reforms in prosecution and highlights new thinking by DAs Mark Gonzalez in Corpus Christi, Texas and Beth McCann in Denver, Colorado. Read more here.

Prosecutors Take On the Department of Justice

MAY 30, 2017 – Interview with 16th Circuit Court (MS) District Attorney Scott Colom, among others, that touches on the letter prosecutive leaders sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the “collateral damage” of harsh charging and tough sentencing policies, and concerns with mandatory minimums. Colom stresses the need for rehabilitation over incarceration for those struggling with substance use disorders and notes that it takes “more courage” and work to be smart on crime. Read more here.

Meet a New Breed of Prosecutor

JULY 17, 2017 – This in-depth story discusses how recently elected prosecutors are bringing new thinking to the field, with a focus on Nueces County (Corpus Christi, TX) District Attorney Mark Gonzalez. Read more here.

Examples of Innovation

Hear From King County (Seattle, WA) Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg As He Discusses New Ways To Think About Our Criminal Justice System

“Not all of society’s most complicated issues can be solved in a courtroom or with a prison cell.”
King County (Seattle, WA) Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg