Locally elected prosecutors wield tremendous, and often unchecked, power. They singlehandedly determine who to prosecute, the charges brought, whether to seek the death penalty when applicable or whether to offer a plea bargain, and they have enormous impact on the recommended sentence.
If a prosecutor has racial or class biases, justice is skewered.
Prosecutor offices have been referred to as “black boxes.” There is little information available to the public. Obtaining private information from these offices is challenging and time-consuming. While a few prosecutors have begun making information available — allowing the public a peek into the black box — these efforts are inadequate, inconsistent, and subject to change when a new prosecutor takes office. The American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) is actively pursuing measures to change that.
The ACLU is urging that each state enact statewide legislation that sets minimum transparency standards for elected prosecutors, ensuring the prosecutors collect data and make it, along with their policies, available to the communities they serve.
In the ACLU’s new report “Unlocking the Black Box: How the Prosecutorial Transparency Act Will Empower Communities and Help End Mass Incarceration,” a roadmap shows states how to “bring their local prosecutors to the table to ensure they’re transparent and accountable to their communities.”
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