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Brennan Center and Former U.S. Attorneys Release Prosecutorial Guidelines Addresses Racial Disparity

For Immediate Release
April 4, 2007

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Lynn Lu, Brennan Center, 212-992-8645
Mike Webb, Brennan Center, 212-998-6746

Brennan Center and Former U.S. Attorneys Release Prosecutorial Guidelines to Address Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System

New York, NY - Today, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law released new guidelines for prosecutors designed to promote equal justice, improve public safety and increase confidence in the criminal justice system. If adopted, the guidelines will reduce unwarranted racial disparities in the criminal justice system and provide prosecutors with practical tools to use in their work.

The recommendations focus on ways in which race plays a role in criminal prosecutions. The protocols were developed with the assistance of and signed onto by 13 former U.S. Attorneys, who also called on their colleagues in federal, state and local law enforcement to adopt the procedures in their offices nationwide.

According to Veronica Coleman-Davis, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, “The guidelines provide a starting point for federal and state prosecutors to begin addressing the root causes of racial disparities in their own offices, in individual prosecutions, and in the communities they have sworn to protect.”

The new procedures call on prosecutors to:

1) Be conscious of racial disparities when setting prosecution priorities;

2) Be proactive with law enforcement agencies to prevent bias and make sure similar defendants receive similar charges;

3) Implement race bias training for staff and law enforcement agencies;

4) Seek input from and effectively communicate with community-based organizations.

“All prosecutors should take conscious measures to eliminate racial disparities in whatever form they take in order to preserve the legitimacy and fairness of the criminal justice system,” said Lynn Lu, Counsel and Katz Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The guidelines give them the tools for this important, but difficult, work.”

“The guidelines give content to the crucial role supervising prosecutors and their line prosecutors play in upholding the legitimacy of a fair and just system for enforcing the law and protecting public safety,” added Wayne S. McKenzie, a guidelines drafter and signatory, and Director of the Vera Institute of Justice’s Prosecution and Racial Justice Program, which partners with state prosecutors to promote racial fairness. “At the same time, they recognize the need for prosecutors to be responsive to the concerns of the communities they protect.”

The prosecutorial guidelines, along with an article describing former U.S. Attorneys’ perspectives on racial disparities in the federal criminal justice system, will be published in the Federal Sentencing Reporter, a journal devoted to federal and state sentencing issues with a wide audience of judges, practitioners, and scholars.