Criminal Justice Leaders Call for Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Prosecution

AP Photo/ Susan Walsh

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Washington, DC – During the Obama administration, the Department of Justice along with various stakeholders created a Task Force on 21st Century Policing.  But as the criminal justice reform movement has grown, there is an increasing recognition that prosecutors and reform of prosecution lays at the heart of reform efforts.

Attempting to catalyze the movement toward reform-minded prosecutors and the reforms they have brought forward, a group of 107 criminal justice leaders—including a high-level bipartisan group of current and former elected prosecutors, police chiefs, sheriffs, and former Department of Justice officials—sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to establish a Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Prosecution.

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 at a time of waning trust in the criminal legal system.

“The evidence is clear: our nation’s decades of ‘tough on crime’ practices have not created safety and have been an anathema to justice, the letter reads.

The signatories read like a who’s who in the progressive prosecution movement with such notables signing it as Chesa Boudin from San Francisco, George Gascón from Los Angeles, Diana Becton from Contra Costa, Tori Verber Salazer from San Joaquin, and even Jeff Rosen from Santa Clara.

“The United States detains 2.3 million people in prisons, jails, and confinement facilities, more than any other democratic nation,” they add.

“We urge the Biden-Harris Administration to help us chart a new path forward,” they write.

“For too long, prosecutors have used their vast discretion to pursue convictions and extreme sentences as part of a false promise of public safety; a new generation of prosecutors is changing this paradigm and prioritizing equity and justice while also improving the safety and well-being of our communities. It is time for the Biden Administration to propel this movement forward and act to create lasting and sustainable change to the criminal legal system,” said Miriam Krinsky, Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution and a signatory on the letter.

Krinsky added, “A Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Prosecution will engage a variety of stakeholders in reimagining prosecution and therefore the entire criminal legal system. There is no time to wait to begin this essential work.”

The white paper recommends that the task force be modeled on President Obama’s Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing and include elected state and local prosecutors, defense and civil rights attorneys, community law enforcement leaders, people with lived experience with the criminal legal system, survivors of crime, researchers, DOJ leaders and other federal experts, and others with a stake in a more fair and just criminal legal system.

The letter writers call on the President to take action, emphasizing the need for federal leadership to support and expand the reach of the reform-minded prosecutor movement.

“Every day, we fight for fairness and justice in our jurisdictions. We work in our jurisdictions to advance a new vision of justice, one in which all Americans are safe from harm and oppression, and empowered to collectively build a better future. We need allies and support in that fight. And we need national engagement,” they continue.

“Communities across the country are demanding—and deserve—a new vision of justice, and local prosecutors have the power to drive this change forward,” said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison who signed the letter.

He added, “As an elected leader and prosecutor, I have discretion that I use to make our criminal legal system more just and to improve community safety and wellbeing. We need federal leadership to help make this the standard of prosecution nationwide and to provide incentives and support to hardwire these changes.”

“As a law enforcement leader, I realize that creating a fair and just criminal legal system requires coordinated and collaborative efforts between police departments and prosecutors’ offices, and I am excited at the prospect of federal leaders committing to new pathways and innovation in prosecution,” said Charlottesville, Va. Police Chief RaShall M. Brackney, who also signed the letter.

Brackney added, “We must divest from the punitive approaches of the past and invest in the strategies that we know improve public safety. A Task Force on 21st Century Prosecution is an important and necessary step in that process.”

“The federal government has an enormous impact on the landscape of state and local prosecution and extraordinary convening power to bring stakeholders together to create a vision for reforming prosecution,” said former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, one of a number of former DOJ officials who joined onto the letter.

She added, “Federal guidance on best practices, technical assistance and incentivized funding can play a key role in determining local criminal justice policies and driving fairness and justice. A Task Force on 21st Century Prosecution would be an excellent place to start.”

“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,” the letter concludes.

Read the letter and see the full list of signatories here and read the white paper here.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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