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Prosecutorial Guidelines Offer DOJ Blueprint for Reform

The Brennan Center for Justice re-releases newly-relevant prosecutorial Guidelines to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system. If adopted, the Guidelines would promote equal justice and improve public safety and confidence in law enforcement.

April 14, 2010

For immediate release, April 14, 2010

Contact: Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 212-998-6289

New York – Today, the Brennan Center for Justice re-releases newly relevant prosecutorial Guidelines to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system. If adopted, the Guidelines would promote equal justice and improve public safety and confidence in law enforcement.

Crafted in 2005, the Guidelines are based on the recommendations of 13 former U.S. Attorneys, who shared views on the racial and ethnic bias vexing law enforcement. The updated report comes as Congress considers legislation that would require DOJ to collect data on racial disparities; Attorney General Eric Holder and other public officials are publicly championing criminal justice reform; and amid vibrant reform initiatives happening at the state and local level. The Brennan Center and other groups have urged DOJ to adopt the Guidelines and Congress to pass the legislation now being considered. 

Racial Disparities in Federal Prosecutions, a joint project of the Brennan Center and the National Institute on Law and Equity (NILE), includes new essays by Brennan Center Board Chair James Johnson, and Brennan Center attorneys Nicole Austin-Hillery and Melanca Clark.

“Over involvement of minorities in the criminal justice system poses problems for all Americans,” says Austin-Hillery. “But bottom line: the disproportionate incarceration of minorities has unraveled communities across the country and contributes to the general disenfranchisement of its members.”

The Justice Integrity Act (JIA), introduced in 2005 by then-Senator Joseph Biden and re-introduced in 2009, incorporates many of the recommendations included in the Guidelines, and would address racial disparities in the system.

"The JIA will not be needed if the DOJ seizes this moment to achieve genuine reform," says Clark. "And adoption of the Guidelines could inspire other federal, state, and local law enforcement professionals to enact similar measures.” 

The Guidelines urge corrective action in six distinct areas:

  1. Prosecutorial decision-making;
  2. Law Enforcement and Task Forces;
  3. Training;
  4. Management and Accountability;
  5. Community Relations; and
  6. Influencing Legislation and Policy.

“The men and women of the United States Department of Justice wield the power of the state to enforce the rule of law and keep our communities safe,” wrote James Johnson in the report’s Foreword. “Most discharge their duties in a vigorous and fair way, but neither human beings nor the institutions they run are perfect. As a result, our ability to reach a deep sense of fairness with criminal enforcement efforts is compromised by the racial and ethnic disparities that bedevil our criminal justice system and continue to damage individuals and communities.”

“The former U.S. Attorneys who crafted these guidelines, carefully considered their impact and implication on the U.S. Attorneys decision-making process of who and who not to prosecute,” says Veronica Coleman-Davis, President of NILE. “They recognized the need for minimizing, if not eliminating, even the chance of prosecutions brought about because of stereotyping and bias that are neither a part of the Justice Department’s guidelines, nor a part of our pursuit of justice.”

For more information or to set up an interview, please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at 212-998-6289 or at jeanine.plant-chirlin@nyu.edu.