Vera’s Prosecution and Racial Justice Program (PRJ) enhances prosecutorial accountability and performance through partnerships with prosecutors’ offices nationwide. PRJ works collaboratively with its partners to analyze data about the exercise and impacts of prosecutorial discretion; assists in developing routine policies and practices that promote fairness, efficiency and professionalism in prosecution; and provides technical assistance to help prosecutors implement those measures. By collaborating with prosecutors, analyzing data, and devising solutions, PRJ works alongside prosecutors to improve their performance and related criminal justice outcomes.
On November 20-21, 2014, Harvard Law School and the Vera Institute of Justice convened a symposium on justice, race, and prosecution...
The Prosecution and Racial Justice Program improves criminal justice outcomes by:
- Partnering with prosecutors to analyze the impact of their decisions and develop policies to address unwarranted racial and ethnic disparities;
- Serving as a resource for research, technical assistance, innovation, and policy development in the areas of prosecution and racial justice; and
- Engaging communities in improving prosecutorial accountability and enhancing public safety.
Past and current projects include partnerships with district attorneys’ offices in Mecklenburg, NC; San Diego, CA; Milwaukee, WI; Lancaster County, NE; and New York, NY to collect and analyze data in order to identify and reduce unwarranted racial and ethnic disparities. PRJ also presents at academic, legal and professional conferences, law schools, and other gatherings, explaining the importance of empirical data as a tool for monitoring prosecutorial discretion and informing prosecutorial policies and practices.
Why Partner with Prosecutors?
Prosecutors have broad discretion and immense power, making critical decisions in such areas as charging, bail, plea bargaining, and sentencing that impact defendants and victims at every stage of the criminal justice continuum. PRJ offers prosecutors mechanisms for monitoring the exercise of discretion within their offices, encouraging fairness, promoting efficiency and enhancing the integrity of the prosecutorial role.
For more information, please contact Scarlet Neath.
Vera’s work in the area of prosecutorial discretion helps prosecutors collect and analyze data at critical discretion points in the prosecutorial process, such as initial case screening, charging, and plea offers. Following data collection and an initial analysis, Prosecution and Racial Justice Program (PRJ) staff and prosecutors work together to identify other factors that may be driving case outcomes. PRJ staff then assists prosecutors to create reports of data findings, integrate these findings into management processes, and devise policies that reduce the risk of biased decision making.
In 2005, Vera's Prosecution and Racial Justice Program (PRJ) entered into a partnership with then-District Attorney Peter Gilchrist and the Mecklenburg County District Attorney's Office (MCDA) in North Carolina. The goal of this work was to develop office processes to identify and address racial disparities in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. To reach that goal, PRJ and MCDA worked together to
- design a data analysis tool that would track prosecutorial decision-making outcomes and identify patterns of disparity at key discretionary points;
- help MCDA integrate this tool into its management process;
develop and implement policies and strategies focusing on racial fairness; and
- communicate the district attorney’s efforts to other chief prosecutors interested in learning how to promote racial justice within their offices.
In subsequent years, PRJ’s work with MCDA focused on drug cases, which comprised a large percentage of offenses prosecuted by that office.
As in many jurisdictions, MCDA kept its data in paper files—an antiquated system that prevented efficient retrieval and analysis of large quantities of case-related information. Working in close collaboration with MCDA, PRJ upgraded the management of drug case data by building an electronic system, known as MeckStat. This tool allowed drug prosecutors to electronically track case outcomes at critical discretion points.
In addition, PRJ worked in partnership with MCDA to develop and implement policies that would promote racial fairness, public safety, and office efficiency. PRJ’s initial statistical findings led the district attorney’s office to implement a more rigorous initial screening process for drug cases, resulting in a greater than 10 percent decrease in prosecutions and a corresponding decrease in dismissals later in the process. Because the new procedures allowed prosecutors to identify weak cases at the beginning of the process, MCDA was able to direct prosecutorial, court, and associated criminal justice resources to more meritorious cases.
Finally, PRJ developed a comprehensive disparity assessment report, presenting case outcome statistics disaggregated by race (and ethnicity, when possible), for two discretionary decision points: initial screening and plea offers. The analyses addressed drug-related cases entered into MeckStat between May 1, 2007 and May 5, 2010.
This groundbreaking work in North Carolina underscores the value of data collection and analysis in understanding prosecutorial discretion and promoting racial justice. PRJ continues to share the lessons learned with prosecutors and legal and academic communities around the country.
Angela Jordan Davis
Angela J. Davis is a professor of law at the American University Washington College of Law where she teaches criminal law, criminal procedure, and Criminal Defense: Theory and Practice. Professor Davis has been a visiting professor at George Washington University Law School and Georgetown University Law Center. She has served on the adjunct faculty at George Washington, Georgetown, and Harvard Law Schools.
Professor Davis is the author of Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor (Oxford University Press, 2007), the co-editor of Trial Stories (with Professor Michael E. Tigar) (Foundation Press, 2007), and a co-author of the 6th edition of Basic Criminal Procedure (with Professors Stephen Saltzburg and Daniel Capra) (Thomson West , 2012). Professor Davis’s other publications include articles and book chapters on prosecutorial discretion and racism in the criminal justice system. She received the American University Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching in a Full-Time Appointment in 2002, the American University Faculty Award for Outstanding Scholarship in 2009, and the Washington College of Law’s Pauline Ruyle Moore award for scholarly contribution in the area of public law in 2000 and 2009. Professor Davis’s book Arbitrary Justice won the Association of American Publishers 2007 Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division Award for Excellence in the Law and Legal Studies Division. She was awarded a Soros Senior Justice Fellowship in 2004.
Professor Davis is a graduate of Howard University and Harvard Law School. She serves on the board of trustees of the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Peter M. Cicchino Social Justice Foundation. Professor Davis served as the executive director of the National Rainbow Coalition from 1994 - 1995. From 1991 - 1994, she was the director of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS). She also served as the deputy director from 1988 – 1991 and as a staff attorney at PDS from 1982 – 1988, representing indigent juveniles and adults. Professor Davis is a former law clerk of the Honorable Theodore R. Newman of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
Norman S. Early
Mr. Early was appointed the Denver district attorney in January 1983 and was re- elected three times (November 1984, 1988, and 1992). He served as senior vice president of Lockheed Martin IMS, Criminal Justice Services from June 1993 through May 1997. Mr. Early is a nationally recognized lecturer and trial lawyer. Prior to becoming Denver district attorney, he served for 10 years as chief deputy district attorney with supervisory responsibility over a felony courtroom, and he personally tried hundreds of cases ranging from fraud to murder. Mr. Early was the developer of the District Attorney's Victim/Witness Program, Drug Education Program, the Drinking and Driving Program called “It's Not Worth It,” and others.
He is the former president of the Colorado District Attorneys' Counsel, was the founder and first president of the National Black Prosecutors' Association, served as a member of the boards of the Denver and Colorado Bar Associations, and is the past president of the National Organization for Victim Assistance. He served on the board of the Denver Metropolitan Football Stadium District, which was responsible for building and maintaining the new Denver football stadium.
Mr. Early is the recipient of numerous community service awards and professional awards, including the National Black Prosecutors' Distinguished Service Award, the United States Department of Justice Award for Outstanding Service on Behalf of Victims of Crime, the Distinguished Faculty Award of the National College of District Attorneys, the Civil Rights Award from the Anti-Defamation League, the Ending Violence Effectively Award for outstanding contributions to survivors of sexual abuse, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Organization for Victim Assistance, and the Government Leadership Award presented by the National Commission Against Drunk Driving in Washington, DC
David A. Harris
David Harris is a professor of law at the University of Pittsburg School of Law. Professor Harris studies, writes, and teaches about police behavior and regulation, law enforcement, and national security issues and the law. He is the leading national authority on racial profiling. His 2002 book, Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work, and his scholarly articles in the field of traffic stops of minority motorists and stops and frisks, influenced the national debate on profiling and related topics. His work led to federal efforts to address the practice and to legislation and voluntary efforts in over half the states and hundreds of police departments. He has testified three times in the U.S. Senate and before many state legislative bodies on profiling and related issues. His 2005 book, Good Cops: The Case for Preventive Policing, uses case studies from around the country to show that citizens need not trade liberty for safety; they can be safe from criminals and terrorists without sacrificing their civil rights if law enforcement uses strategies based on prevention. His 2012 book, Failed Evidence: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science, shows that police and prosecutors ignore decades of good scientific work on eyewitness testimony, interrogation, and non-DNA forensics, explains why this happens, and describes how we can break through this resistance to have a better, more accurate investigative process. He gives speeches and does professional training for law enforcement, judges, and attorneys throughout the country and presents his work regularly in academic conferences.
Professor Harris also writes and comments frequently in the media on police practices, racial profiling, and other criminal justice and national security issues. He has appeared on The Today Show, Dateline NBC, National Public Radio, and has been interviewed by The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times, among many others. In 1996, Professor Harris served as a member of the Civil Liberties Advisory Board to the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. Before he began teaching in 1990, Professor Harris was a public defender in the Washington, DC area, a litigator at a law firm in Philadelphia, and law clerk to Federal Judge Walter K. Stapleton in Wilmington, Delaware.
Brian D. Johnson
Brian D. Johnson is Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland. His areas of expertise involve social inequality in the justice system, with a particular focus on racial disparities in criminal case processing and sentencing. Much of his research examines contextual influences in punishment as well as the use of advanced statistical modeling techniques to study the criminal process.
Dr. Johnson is the recipient of the 2008 ASC Ruth Shonle Cavan Young Scholar Award, he is a faculty research associate of the Maryland Population Research Center, and he was recently appointed to the editorial board of Criminology. He has delivered invited workshops to the American Society of Criminology (ASC) and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and has served as a research consultant for organizations like Weststat and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). His published work appears in peer-reviewed journals such as Criminology, Journal of Quantitative Criminology and Justice Quarterly.
Chief Lansdowne was sworn in as San Diego's chief of police on August 4, 2003. He graduated from San Jose State University in 1973 with a BS degree in criminal justice administration. He began his law enforcement career in 1966, when he joined the San Jose Police Department. As he learned policing, he also was serving his state as a member of the California National Guard (1966-72). He rose through the ranks at SJPD, commanding a variety of units and divisions and developing a reputation as a person who cared about his officers and the community they policed. He was accessible and he was not afraid to make decisions. Those skills eventually elevated him to the position of assistant chief. In 1994, he left San Jose to head the police department in Richmond, California. In August 1998, Chief Lansdowne returned to San Jose as that city's top cop. Over the years, Chief Lansdowne has expanded his expertise and his reputation as one of the country’s foremost law enforcement professionals.
He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and has served on a variety of state and national boards, including the Major Cities Chiefs and the National Conference for Community and Justice.
Marc L. Miller
Marc L. Miller currently serves as the Dean and Ralph W. Bilby Professor of Law at the University of Arizona, Rogers College of Law. Previously, he was a professor of law at Emory Law School from 1988 to 2005 and associate dean for faculty and scholarship from 2003 to 2005.
Miller graduated from the University of Chicago Law School and Pomona College. He is author of the comprehensive casebook Criminal Procedures: Cases, Statutes and Executive Materials (Wolters Kluwer, 4th Ed. 2011) (with Ronald Wright) and of the first major casebook on sentencing, Sentencing Law and Policy: Cases, Statutes and Guidelines (Wolters Kluwer, 3rd Ed. 2013). He is a founding editor (with Dan Freed) of the Federal Sentencing Reporter (Vera Institute / Univ. Cal. Press), which he edited for seven years and for which he now serves as adviser.
Miller has written numerous articles and essays on topics including prosecutorial decision making, sentencing, the politics of crime, the death penalty, and juvenile law. He also writes and teaches about public lands and natural resources, with special attention to issues at the intersection of law, science, and policy.
Before teaching, he served as law clerk to Chief Judge John Godbold of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, as attorney-adviser in the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice, and as special counsel at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York. He spent the spring 1998 term as visiting professor at the Duke Law School and the 1995-1996 academic year as a visiting scholar at Stanford Law School. Miller is a member of the American Law Institute (ALI), and an adviser to various criminal justice and environmental publications and organizations.
A 1982 graduate of the University of Houston and 1985 graduate of Southern Methodist University School of Law, Ms. Mosley joined the National College of District Attorneys (now, the National District Attorneys Association) in 1993. Prior to that, she served as an Assistant District Attorney in the Family Criminal Law Division (1989-1993) and General Trial Bureau (1987-1989) of the Harris County District Attorney's Office in Houston, Texas; she also served as law clerk to the Honorable Calvin Botley, U.S. Magistrate Judge, Southern District of Texas (1985-1987). Ms. Mosley has lectured for the Attorney General's Office in Chuuk, Micronesia, the California District Attorneys Association, the Office on Violence Against Women, the National Center for State Courts/ National Criminal Justice Association, the National Black Prosecutors Association and the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women's Network in collaboration with the Illinois Attorney General's Office.
Currently, she serves on the boards of the Association of Government Attorneys in Capital Litigation and the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence; she also serves on a variety of working groups and advisory committees in the area of domestic violence. She currently manages national training programs, independent contract training programs and the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women for NDAA.
Karen Patton Seymour
Karen Patton Seymour is the Co-Managing Partner of Sullivan & Cromwell's litigation group. Her practice focuses on white-collar criminal defense and internal investigations. She also represents clients in complex federal and state civil litigation. From 2002-2004, Ms. Seymour served as the chief of the Criminal Division for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, where she supervised 165 federal prosecutors and oversaw all criminal investigations and prosecutions in the district, including the investigations of corporate fraud involving WorldCom, ImClone and Adelphia. She was lead trial counsel for the government in the prosecution of Martha Stewart and Peter Bacanovic. During her first tenure in the U.S. Attorney's Office from 1990 to 1996, she prosecuted a wide variety of cases and served as Chief of the General Crimes Unit.
Ms. Seymour is a board member of the Vera Institute of Justice (2007-present) and various other organizations. She frequently lectures on business ethics, corporate fraud, internal investigations, securities enforcement and other topics. Ms. Seymour is a graduate of Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas Law School, and the University of London Law School.
Cassia C. Spohn
Cassia Spohn is Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she holds an Isaacson Professorship and serves as Department Chair. She is the author of How Do Judges Decide? The Search for Fairness and Justice in Punishment. She also is the co-author of two books: The Color of Justice: Race, Ethnicity, and Crime in America and Rape Law Reform: A Grassroots Movement and Its Impact. She has published extensively on prosecutors' charging decisions in sexual assault cases, the effect of race/ethnicity and gender on sentencing decisions, sentencing of drug offenders, and the deterrent effect of imprisonment. She is currently completing a study of charging and sentencing decisions under the federal sentencing guidelines. She also is conducting an evaluation of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services' Violent and High-Risk Offender Reentry Program.
In 1999, Dr, Spohn was awarded the University of Nebraska Outstanding Research and Creative Activity Award. She also received the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Excellence in Teaching Award and Award for Distinguished Research or Creative Activity. In 1994, she received for W.E.B. DuBois Award for outstanding contributions to scholarship on crime and race/ethnicity from the Western Society of Criminology. Dr. Spohn is a member of Nebraska's Minority and Justice Task Force Implementation Committee and is on the board of directors for the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest.
Ronald Wright is currently a Professor of Law at Wake Forest University School of Law. He has also been a visiting professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law and North Carolina State University.
He is the co-author of two casebooks in criminal procedure and sentencing; his empirical research concentrates on the work of the institutions of criminal adjudication, including prosecutors' offices, public defender organizations, and sentencing commissions. He is a board member of the Prosecution and Racial Justice Project of the Vera Institute of Justice, and has been an advisor or board member for Families Against Mandatory Minimum Sentences (FAMM), North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, Inc., and the Winston- Salem Citizens' Police Review Board. Prior to joining the faculty at Wake Forest, he was a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, prosecuting antitrust and other white-collar criminal cases.