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The Power of the Prosecutor

Popehat's Ken White and author John Pfaff on the need for reform.

"There is no evidence that an individual DA in his office is any more punitive today than he was in 1974," explains John Pfaff, author of Locked in: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform. "We just have 30,000 of them instead of 17,000 even though the crime rate is roughly the same as it was in 1974. They've got to do something. They can't just play minesweeper all day and keep their jobs."

On May 25th, 2017, at Reason's Washington, D.C. office, Reason hosted a panel discussion with Pfaff and Ken White, former assistant United States attorney and co-founder of the blog Popehat. Moderated by Lauren Krisai, director of Criminal Justice Reform at the Reason Foundation, the discussion touched on the power of prosecutors in the criminal justice system, how prosecutors​ ​have ​serve​d​ as barriers to meaningful ​criminal justice​ reform, and whether an influx of forward-looking district attorneys could change the status quo.

Edited by Ian Keyser. Cameras by Mark McDaniel and Todd Krainin.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Legislators make certain that prosecutors have all the tools they need to get convictions. That is how both grow their power base and is how an entire industry not only thrives but bloats out of control. What possible incentive would any of these actors have to change their behavior as opposed to just telling voters they intend to change their behavior?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Because if they promise to change and then don't why the voters will run them out of office...two years later.

  • Crusty Juggler - lamertarian||

    They've got to do something.

    Literally scary.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    They can't just play minesweeper all day and keep their jobs.

    These are government employees. So they probably could.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Maybe we should tell them, so they won't go looking for busywork that ruins lives.

    "Look, if you have a government job now, and we decide it shouldn't exist, we WILL keep paying you until retirement. Just go home. We're selling the building, and folding your department into the department of sanitation. Go ahead; get another job on the side. We don't care. Just stop pounding money down ratholes."

  • jgw||

    This may be the only solution I could see working. Retire today but have your job documented via 'yada yada' standards first, so we can be sure to automate.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    "There is no evidence that an individual DA in his office is any more punitive today than he was in 1974," explains John Pfaff, author of Locked in: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform. "We just have 30,000 of them instead of 17,000 even though the crime rate is roughly the same as it was in 1974.

    I was under the impression that crime rates are mostly down across the board.
    However, having said that, and by no means am I a prosecutor shill,
    The authors should note that an increase in population of around 50% combined with constant crime "rates" would implicate a needed rise in prosecutorial resources.

  • Carlos Inconvenience||

    Let's face it. We get the prosecutors we deserve. No one ever got elected DA by promising to preserve the rights of defendants.

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