Centers: Prosecution and Racial Justice Program
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.
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; 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, contact PRJ's director, Whitney Tymas.
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.
Director, Prosecution and Racial Justice
Besiki Luka Kutateladze
Director of Research, Prosecution and Racial Justice
Research Associate, Prosecution and Racial Justice Program
Senior Program Associate, Prosecution and Racial Justice Program
Project Assistant, Government Planning and Innovation
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.