VERA INSTITUTE OF JUSTICE EXPANDS THEIR CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM “RESHAPING PROSECUTION” PROGRAM

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[Criminal Justice\Vera Institute of Justice\"Reshaping Prosecution"]
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. “Vera’s long-standing data-informed approach, guided by research and evidence-based experience, provided the informed insight needed to implement criminal justice reforms that will ultimately make our city safer."
Photo: Facebook

Across the country, communities have demanded a new approach to criminal justice—and a transformation of what it means to be a prosecutor—by electing a growing cohort of lead prosecutors committed to change.

As the gatekeepers of the justice system, prosecutors wield a tremendous amount of power and are uniquely situated to stem the tide of mass incarceration and to ensure justice, fairness, and accountability are more than lofty ideals. However, to make these goals a reality, prosecutors must consider the impact of their actions not only on individuals and individual cases—they must also assess how their office’s practices impact systemic issues of racial inequity and mass incarceration.

As a response to this need, recently the Vera Institute of Justice’s Reshaping Prosecution program announced an expansion to support three more offices: DeKalb County, GA (District Attorney Sherry Boston), Ingham County, MI (County Prosecutor Carol Siemon), and Boulder County, CO (District Attorney Michael Dougherty) in their reform efforts. Chosen through a competitive process, each office demonstrated a strong commitment to working to transform their policies, practices, and culture in order to reduce incarceration and address racial disparities– and increase transparency and accountability to the communities they serve.

"Our nation is at a tipping-point where it’s now possible to confront the ways that traditional prosecution emphasizes vengeance over accountability and forge a new path for prosecutors to promote safety, uphold human dignity and pursue racial justice,” said Jamila Hodge, director of Vera’s Reshaping Prosecution. “We’re thrilled for the opportunity to work with three new partner offices and ensure they have the resources and support they need to reimagine the role of the prosecutor as they seek justice and promote safety within their communities."

Reshaping Prosecution has worked closely with City of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, implementing policies that limit the system's response of convictions and incarceration to offenses that truly impact public safety. Policies also helped clear a backlog of more than 25,000 cases, allowing people who have been waiting months and even years to finally learn the status of their case, and more than 300 people have been connected to services and support rather than facing a conviction. The team also provided support to Gardner when she, as the first African-American person elected as the city’s chief prosecutor, filed an unprecedented federal civil rights lawsuit alleging a coordinated, racist conspiracy designed to chase her from office. The lawsuit also speaks to a larger problem of similar vitriol, hatred, and attacks that Black women prosecutors across the country in particular regularly face because of their reform platform.

“When I was elected as the first African-American prosecutor of the City of St. Louis, it was an amazing feeling. As I began to implement the reforms that I promised voters, I was quickly reminded of the daunting challenge that reforming a broken criminal justice system presents. Working with the Reshaping Prosecution team at the Vera Institute of Justice has been a vital component in our efforts,” said St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. “Vera’s long standing data-informed approach, guided by research and evidence-based experience, provided the informed insight needed to implement criminal justice reforms that will ultimately make our city safer in the long-term."

Each new office will work with Vera to implement concrete, data-informed policy and practice reforms to reduce the reach and impact of the criminal legal system, promote racial equity, and increase the public’s confidence in their office. In addition, Vera seeks to uplift community solutions to address changes the offices can make to better serve their communities.

Statements of Support

Our office is strongly committed to ensuring that the justice system is fair and equal for all. To that end, our office is honored that the Vera Institute of Justice has selected this office to be a part of their Reshaping Prosecution program. This partnership will assist us in implementing concrete, data-informed policy and practice reforms, and are pleased to know that Vera will work with us to provide data analysis, which will inform our future efforts and policies.” – Office of Michael Dougherty, District Attorney in Boulder County, CO.

Our office looks forward to the partnership with Reshaping Prosecution to use data to make meaningful policy and practice changes to meet our primary goal of community safety while working to further reduce the harms of mass incarceration. Vera has led the field in advancing efforts to end mass incarceration, especially in helping reform-minded prosecutors rethink their role. Our office is honored to have been chosen as a partner to further this important work.” – Carol Siemon, Ingham County, MI, County Prosecutor

We are thrilled to have been selected by the Vera Institute as a partner site for its data-driven analysis of our policies and procedures. This is an opportunity for us to take an honest look at our operations, understand what we’re doing well, and identify areas for improvement in our ongoing efforts to create a more fair and equitable system for processing cases and promoting just outcomes.” – Sherry Boston, Dekalb County, GA, District Attorney

About the Vera Institute of Justice

The Vera Institute of Justice is a justice reform change agent. Vera produces ideas, analysis, and research that inspire change in the systems people rely upon for safety and justice. Vera collaborates with the communities most impacted by these systems and works in close partnership with government and civic leaders to implement change. Across projects, Vera is committed to explicitly and effectively reducing the burdens of the justice system on people of color and frames all work with an understanding of our country’s history of racial oppression. Vera is currently pursuing core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, providing legal services for immigrants, and ensuring that justice systems more effectively serve America’s increasingly diverse communities. Vera has offices in Brooklyn, NY; Washington, DC; New Orleans, and Los Angeles.

For more information, visit www.vera.org

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