Issues / Accountability, Transparency and Measuring Success

Prosecutors must be leaders in the effort to ensure that convictions are the result of processes that are fair, transparent, and consistent with the pursuit of justice. Respecting the privacy and due process rights of those directly involved in a case is important and constitutionally required, but prosecutors also have an obligation to open the black box and show the public how decisions are made.

Elected prosecutors also need to be thoughtful and deliberate in how they measure and define “success.” Rather than tallying up convictions, indictments and “wins,” prosecutive leaders should ensure that they — and others who work for and with them — are improving public safety and community well-being, prioritizing community trust and transparency, and seeking just results.

Information and Resources

Advancing the Use of Data in Prosecution

OCT. 2023 – Data and transparency are essential to the pursuit of justice, yet for too long, the inner workings of prosecutors’ offices have been a black box. Thankfully, a new generation of reform-minded prosecutors is leading the way in embracing data, redefining success beyond conviction rates, and sharing vital information with their communities. This FJP white paper explores lessons learned from these offices and provides a roadmap for other prosecutors looking to increase their data capacity and transparency in ways that both improve internal office management and build trust with the people they serve. A one-page overview of the white paper can be found here.

“While it took time and investment to make the necessary changes to policies and processes, we’re now in a place where we can get useful answers from our data that help us make better decisions to promote community safety and well-being.”
– Chatham County (Savannah, GA) District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones

The Prosecutor’s Power to Correct and Prevent Unjust Convictions

JUNE 13, 2023 – The increased availability of DNA testing and surge in exonerations over the past three decades have cast a bright light on the prevalence of unjust convictions in the United States. As ministers of justice in their communities, elected prosecutors are responsible for ensuring that innocent people do not remain incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit and that safeguards are put in place to prevent future mistakes. In this article in the German Journal of Criminology and Penal Reform, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky and Senior Research, Policy and Communications Associate Rebecca Blair discuss the growth and impact of conviction integrity units (CIUs) in prosecutor’s offices and explain how some DAs are working towards a more holistic vision of post-conviction justice.

“The last three decades have proven that prosecutors hold broad power to cause, correct, and prevent wrongful convictions… [A] growing number are leveraging the tools of their positions to make their local criminal legal system more just, fair, and effective. Their combined efforts have yielded hundreds of exonerations, corrected unjust sentences, and prevented the imprisonment of untold numbers of innocent people.”

Issues at a Glance Brief: Plea Bargaining

FEB. 24, 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.

“As an elected prosecutor, I am entrusted by my community to pursue justice, and using plea bargaining to rack up convictions and unnecessarily put people behind bars goes against that responsibility.”
– Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner

Researchers Launch New Tool to Measure Success for Prosecutors’ Offices

OCT. 1, 2020 – FJP, in partnership with criminologists from Florida International University and Loyola University at Chicago and with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety & Justice Challenge, announced the launch of Prosecutorial Performance Indicators (PPIs). The PPIs are 55 new measures of performance that challenge and expand traditional measures of success in the field of prosecution. Historically, prosecutorial performance has been measured by metrics such as number of cases filed, conviction rates, and sentence length, thereby encouraging tough-on-crime policies and feeding mass incarceration. Amid widespread protests and calls for reimagining public safety, the PPIs provide a timely shift toward priorities of safety, community well-being, justice and fairness. Read the release and visit the PPI website.

FJP Discovery Brief

JAN. 2018 – Discovery practices have a profound effect on ensuring fair case outcomes, expeditious resolution of cases, enhanced police accountability, and compliance with constitutional mandates. This FJP “Issues at a Glance” brief outlines how prosecution and defense alike benefit from open and early discovery. The brief offers a range of tools — from simple checklists to electronic Brady databases, to supervision and random audits — to ensure prosecutors share all relevant information in a timely and efficient manner, ultimately improving trust and accountability in the justice system.

“I want the defense to have everything I have.”
Milwaukee county (WI) District Attorney John Chisholm

Conviction Integrity Units: Vehicles for Justice and Accountability

AUG. 2019 – The over 21,000 years exonerees collectively spent behind bars is hard to reconcile with a system that we entrust to promote fairness and produce just outcomes. That is why a growing number of elected prosecutors have created Conviction Integrity Units (CIUs) that further a prosecutor’s fundamental duty to seek justice. In FJP’s Conviction Integrity and Review Statement of Principles we outline best practices for creating and operating a CIU that can effectively identify and correct past injustices and help to prevent future wrongful convictions, while strengthening community trust in the integrity and ability of our system to deliver justice.

“As a prosecutor, you can’t waiver on integrity and justice, because…someone’s life and liberty is at stake.”
– St. Louis City Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner

FJP Conviction Integrity Brief

SEPT. 2017 – Effective “Conviction Integrity Units” (CIUs) and other internal accountability mechanisms are a key part not only of reviewing potentially wrongful convictions, but also of learning from past errors and reducing the likelihood of future problems. This FJP “Issues at a Glance” brief addresses how prosecutors can improve office culture, strengthen community trust, and achieve the highest possible integrity in case outcomes by creating effective CIUs and implementing other policies that enhance transparency and accountability.

“Conviction Integrity Units Revisited”

2017 – Barry Scheck of The Innocence Project describes key theoretical and practical considerations, and best practices, associated with creating a Conviction Integrity Unit. Read more here.

“History has shown that when folks get in office and try to pursue convictions rather than justice, mistakes are made. Wrong people are prosecuted.”
– Wyandotte County (Kansas City, KS) District Attorney Mark Dupree

Report on Conviction Integrity Review

APRIL 2016 – The University of Pennsylvania Quattrone Center provides recommendations on practices for establishing Conviction Integrity Units. Read more here.

Speaking Out

911 call scrutiny should not be used to identify suspects

FEB. 2, 2024 – In more than 100 cases across 26 states, police and prosecutors have used a new and questionable investigative method known as “911 call analysis” to determine criminal guilt based on the word choice and behavior of people calling 911 to report an emergency. In an op-ed in Law360, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky and Innocence Project Forensic Science Policy Associate Isabelle Cohn explain why policymakers and public safety leaders must take action to prevent this unproven approach from ensnaring more innocent people in the criminal legal system.

“We must ensure that suspect development methods used by police and prosecutors…are thoroughly researched and scientifically vetted before being deployed. Failure to do so causes drastic harm and the unacceptable risk of wrongful convictions.”

The Maryland Supreme Court must allow unconstitutional convictions to be overturned

NOV. 27, 2023 – In September 2022, Adnan Syed walked out of prison 22 years after he was sentenced to life for the murder of his former girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. Now, the Maryland Supreme Court is considering whether to reinstate his conviction – not because of new evidence, but due to a procedural issue. In this op-ed in The Baltimore Sun, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky and the University of Maryland Clinical Law Program Director Leigh Goodmark explain how the outcome of this case could have far-reaching implications for efforts to address unconstitutional and wrongful convictions across Maryland and the nation.

“[The] crucial and important work of righting past wrongs would be significantly endangered if courts are permitted to reinstate unconstitutional convictions because of procedural issues that do not affect the outcome of the case.”

Every prosecutor’s office should be investing in data

OCT. 30, 2023 –The decisions made by each of the more than 2,000 prosecutors’ offices nationwide have significant impacts on individuals and their communities, but few offices collect and share data in ways that help inform policy choices and improve case outcomes. Thankfully, a new generation of prosecutors is investing in data infrastructure that helps improve both equity and transparency, thereby strengthening trust in the system and promoting public safety. In an op-ed in The Crime Report, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky, Data Innovations Director Ryan Gentzler, and Research & Policy Associate Michaela Bono explain why elected district attorneys – and the officials who fund them – must prioritize data to build a better justice system.

“There is no one path to effective data use by prosecutors, but…developing data capacity is possible for every prosecutor’s office and is well worth the investment of time and resources.”

Police Used DNA to Identify a Suspect in the Idaho Killings. What Does That Tell Us?

JAN. 10, 2023 – Developments in DNA technology can be incredibly beneficial to investigations – and also help exonerate the innocent – but it’s essential that criminal justice leaders and the public understand their limitations. In an op-ed in NBC News THINK, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky and Senior Research, Policy and Communications Associate Rebecca Blair explain why we must think critically about DNA analysis as well as other advancements in forensic science to ensure that every investigation meets the high standards required for justice and accountability.

“In a justice system rife with flawed science, DNA evidence is rightly viewed as the gold standard for forensics…. [But] the limits and pitfalls of DNA testing technology and other often less credible sciences are not sufficiently understood among prosecutors, law enforcement and the public.”

Wrongful convictions cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Wrongdoing prosecutors must be held accountable.

OCT. 14, 2022 – Nearly a decade after Adnan Syed’s case gained notoriety on the podcast Serial, prosecutors in Baltimore announced that they were dropping all charges against him, after examining critical exculpatory evidence never disclosed during his initial trial. In the wake of this long overdue correction of a past injustice, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky and Communications Director Alyssa Kress discuss in an op-ed in MarketWatch the larger problem across the country with prosecutorial misconduct that leads to wrongful convictions, and the obligation of elected prosecutors to address and learn from the mistakes of the past so that the same errors do not play out time and time again.

[A] system that continues to convict and incarcerate the innocent is not one that lives up to the ideal of justice for all. Too many prosecutors’ offices still have no vehicle to review past mistakes, let alone learn from them. Without discovering and correcting miscarriages of justice, how can prosecutors ensure that the same errors do not keep playing out over and over again?

2020 vote saw pro-reform prosecutors win. Now they need to fix mistakes by their predecessors.

NOV. 20, 2020 – A recent study of 2,400 exonerations from 1989-2019 found that prosecutorial misconduct played a role in 30 percent of cases. Elected prosecutors have a responsibility to prevent misconduct in their offices as well as to proactively address past injustices by establishing Conviction Integrity Units that work with defense counsel and innocence organizations to review prior convictions. In this op-ed in NBC Think, Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discuss the critical role prosecutors play in determining whether an innocent person ends up – or stays – behind bars.

“As [a] wave of new leadership enters office, those elected must remember that they have not just been entrusted to prevent future harm — they must also work to undo the damage their offices have already done. That begins by identifying wrongful convictions stemming from bad science, bias or misconduct by police or their own predecessors, and then moving to exonerate those affected.”

A Smarter Approach To Measuring Prosecutorial Success

OCT. 4, 2020 – In this Law360 op-ed, New York University School of Law Professor Anthony Thompson and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discuss the need for new metrics of success for 21st Century Prosecutors and why traditional measures like conviction rates & sentence length are often at odds with the pursuit of justice. They further discuss new Prosecutorial Performance Indicators, a comprehensive set of 55 metrics that track progress toward prosecutorial fairness, just results, addressing racial disparities, and community well-being.

“For too long, prosecutor’s offices have been reluctant to use data to identify problems and improve their work. By using Prosecutorial Performance Indicators, prosecutors can begin to understand the impact of their decisions, measure their own success, and ensure that their work truly promotes a just system for all.”

Over 75 Criminal Justice Leaders Demand Transparency and Balance from Presidential Commission Examining Policing and Criminal Justice

JUNE 18, 2020 – Against the backdrop of the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, 76 current and former elected prosecutors and law enforcement leaders from around the nation filed an amicus brief highlighting the deeply frayed relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve and elevating the urgent need for transparent, inclusive and thoughtful reform of policing policies. In the brief, amici argue that the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice reflects anything but this open and balanced starting point and has failed to comply with the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The brief concludes that this “flawed process … is the last thing a nation in crisis needs at this critical moment in time.” For more read the release and brief.

“Law enforcement must earn the public’s trust…But that is only possible when law enforcement officials pair their words with a meaningful commitment to learning from, and partnering with, the communities they serve.”

Recent Baltimore exonerations shed light on the need for reforming youth interrogation practices

NOV. 27, 2019 – A staggering 86% of convictions of individuals later exonerated for crimes that occurred before they turned 14 are based on false confessions, often obtained through coercive interrogation tactics. In a new Washington Post op-ed, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discuss why such tactics must end and why reforms are needed in the questioning of young people to protect the integrity of the justice system.

“Prosecutors have a duty to administer justice with integrity. When a tragic injustice occurs, we must work to ensure those mistakes never happen again.”

Elected Prosecutors Push Back Against Attempt to Strip Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner of Ability to Correct Unjust Convictions

OCT. 23, 2019 – A prosecutor has a duty to investigate and remedy injustice. That’s why elected prosecutors from across the country have repeatedly filed amicus curiae briefs – in the trial court, on appeal, and in the Missouri State Supreme Court – to secure justice for Lamar Johnson, a man with a credible claim of innocence who has spent nearly 25 years behind bars. The briefs have urged Missouri Courts to not only grant Johnson a new trial, but, more broadly, to respect the power and obligation of prosecutors to investigate and remedy cases where wrongful convictions have occurred. For more, read the press release and full brief submitted by 45 elected prosecutors to the state Supreme Court. Also read the original release and brief submitted to trial court and the appellate brief and release.

“Allowing politics to determine whether relief is granted or denied in a case where there are credible claims of innocence and serious concerns about prosecutorial and law enforcement misconduct is unconscionable.”
– 13th Judicial Circuit (Tampa, FL) State Attorney Andrew Warren

Orange County’s Informant Scandal Reveals Deep Concerns with Use of Jailhouse Informants 

SEPT. 9, 2019 – Elected prosecutors have an obligation to protect the integrity of the criminal justice process. The jailhouse informant scandal in Orange County, California – where authorities paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to jailhouse informants who coerced confessions from witnesses with threats of violence and intimidation is illustrative of the deep concerns with these practicesIn a USA Today op-ed, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky and former Superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department Ronal Serpas discuss the dangers of jailhouse informant programs and the need for prosecutors to focus on fairness and the integrity of the justice system rather than simply “winning” convictions to protect and promote public trust. 

“Wrongful Convictions Are Disturbingly Common, and Prosecutors Have Duty To Fix Injustice”

MARCH 29, 2019 – Prosecutors have a duty to investigate and correct miscarriages of justice. In a USA Today op-ed, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky shares how shockingly common wrongful convictions are and why we need a mechanism to address claims of innocence and remedy cases where the integrity of the process has been compromised. Additionally, she recounts the human toll of wrongful convictions, lessons learned from these cases, and the vital importance of conviction review units as a vehicle for change.

Promoting Integrity in Conviction Integrity Review”

NOV. 6, 2017 – FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky writes about a unique convening event hosted by FJP in partnership with the Innocence Project, Penn Law’s Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, Witness to Innocence, and NYU’s Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, where elected prosecutors came together to discuss best practices for promoting accountability and for the design of conviction integrity and review units. These units are designed to address and investigate innocence claims and should also seek to proactively guard against future improper convictions. Click here to read more. 

Conviction integrity units should not just aim to redress wrongful convictions; they should also seek to establish and maintain the confidence of their communities in the integrity of the justice system. To do so certainly requires unlocking a cell door and erasing a record when an injustice has occurred. Yet it also requires the courage to assess and address system weaknesses and practices.
– Fair and Just Prosecution Executive Director Miriam Krinsky

Importance and Implications of Prosecutorial Discretion and Independence

JULY 12, 2017 – Washington Post op-ed in which Denver (CO) District Attorney Beth McCann, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky underscore the importance and implications of prosecutorial discretion and independence.

“Chisholm, Gossett: Law Enforcement Needs Better Data”

MAY 30, 2017 – Milwaukee (WI) District Attorney John Chisholm and Winnebago County (WI) District Attorney Christian Gossett identify the value of data and analytics in prosecution and the work of Measures for Justice in obtaining that data. Read more here.

Examples of Innovation

King County Brady Committee Protocol

This document put out by the King County (Seattle, WA) Prosecuting Attorney’s Office sets forth an office-wide Brady Protocol, specifying practices for disclosure of evidence.