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New Report: A Path for Prosecutors to Reduce Incarceration

A new Brennan Center report proposes a shift in federal prosecutorial priorities that will reduce the federal prison population and its costs.

September 23, 2014

Recent events in Ferguson, Mo., and revelations about America’s unprecedented levels of incarceration have highlighted the urgent need to reform the justice system.

A new Brennan Center report proposes modernizing one key aspect of that system: federal prosecution.

Today, the Brennan Center launched this report at a conference keynoted by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Other speakers are four sitting U.S. Attorneys, including New Jersey’s Paul Fishman and Louisiana’s Kenneth Polite; former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer; Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance; Washington, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier; and more.

Federal prosecutors are a uniquely powerful force for change, as they have wide discretion over criminal charges, plea agreements, and sentencing recommendations. This decision-making authority can have a great effect on the prison population. The report, Federal Prosecution for the 21st Century, was developed with the input of a Blue Ribbon Panel of the nation’s leading prosecutors, led by former U.S. Undersecretary for Enforcement James E. Johnson and former U.S. Attorney G. Douglas Jones.

“In this moment for justice reform, prosecutors can play an important role. They are charged with protecting the public and enforcing the law. Prosecutors increasingly agree that they can advance public safety and justice without excessively relying on incarceration. This report seeks to expand and institutionalize this shift,” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program.

The report recommends that the Justice Department and U.S. Attorneys implement a policy called Success-Oriented Funding to create new incentives to drive practices toward three priorities:

  • Reducing violent and serious crime;
  • Reducing prison populations; and
  • Reducing recidivism.

“[Prosecutors] can lead the way to advance thoughtful, sensible approaches that have a real impact on violence and crime, while also reducing unnecessary prosecution and incarceration,” writes former Attorney General Janet Reno in the foreword. “This report provides a blueprint for federal prosecutors to establish a new set of priorities to better reduce crime and reduce incarceration, while modernizing criminal justice…We encourage prosecutors and law enforcement across the country to adopt this approach.

This shift in federal prosecutorial priorities can reduce the federal prison population and its costs, and spur change in state and local practices.

For more information on the conference or to watch a live stream, click here.

Click here to read the full report, Federal Prosecution for the 21st Century.