What is the message that a prosecutor gets at each stage of their becoming a prosecutor? What do we tell them their job is? If all we're measuring are felony convictions, then we're going to try and get more felony convictions.
A former public defender and long-time criminal justice reform advocate with both the Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union, Jill Harris says she is "shocked to find myself working for a D.A." As the recently named policy and strategy counsel for the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office, Harris is heading up its "Justice 2020 Initiative," a big-tent effort to model "what a truly progressive prosecutor's office can be" (including two members from the Center for Court Innovation). The areas targeted include everything from increasing the use of alternatives to incarceration to reducing racial disparities in the justice system.
For this third installment of our series on the power of prosecutors and the possibility for reform, Jill Harris sits down with New Thinking host Matt Watkins. Together they discuss the challenges of changing the culture of prosecution, what it's like for Harris to now be on "the other side" at a moment when prosecutor decision-making is being subjected to an unprecedented degree of public scrutiny, and what she sees as a possible turning-point in the debate. "The extent to which both reformers and funders have turned their attention to prosecutors' offices," she notes, "it's just really remarkable that change has occurred in a really short amount of time."