Prosecutors are powerful actors in the criminal justice system. They have wide-ranging discretion and authority to decide whether to charge someone with a crime and what that charge should be. For decades, these gatekeepers in the criminal justice system have championed so-called tough-on-crime policies that have coincided with the explosion of mass incarceration in the United States, which has the largest incarcerated population in the world.
The movement to reform the criminal justice system has identified prosecutors as a key battlefield for enacting criminal justice reform. Reform-minded prosecutors can use their authority to directly affect the levels of incarceration by fairly determining charges and limiting the number of people who are affected by the system. Across the country, local prosecutors have set a new precedent of winning elections on reform-minded platforms that propose sweeping changes to a punitive criminal justice system and also make communities safer. These new prosecutors have pledged expansions of diversion programs as alternatives to incarceration; ending cash bail and the death penalty; and treating substance use as a public health issue.
In 2019, voters in three of the most populous northern Virginia counties made it clear that their prosecutors must have a definitive commitment to criminal justice reform. Please join the Center for American Progress for a discussion on the evolving role and responsibilities of prosecutors with three of the state’s newly elected reform-minded prosecutors.
Ed Chung, Vice President for Criminal Justice Reform, Center for American Progress
Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Commonwealth’s Attorney-elect, Arlington County & City of Falls Church, Virginia
Steve Descano , Commonwealth’s Attorney-elect, Fairfax County, Virginia
Buta Biberaj, Commonwealth’s Attorney-elect, Loudoun County, Virginia
Josie Duffy Rice, President, The Appeal