Reshaping Prosecution Initiative

A Safer and More Equitable Approach

The reform prosecution movement faces a critical moment. Reform prosecutors face unprecedented attacks and calls for a return to “tough-on-crime” tactics. Those attacks rest on the false belief that criminal legal system reforms endanger public safety.

To sustain the movement, reform prosecutors must build the case that their approach will make communities safer—and Vera’s Reshaping Prosecution initiative is helping them do so.

Reshaping Prosecution operates on the core belief that communities will be safer if fewer people enter the criminal legal system. We work with prosecutors to reduce incarceration, primarily by keeping people out of the system and building evidence for alternative approaches to long-term public safety. Reshaping Prosecution’s work is guided by three principles that support safer communities:

  • shrinking the number of people who enter the criminal legal system;
  • addressing systemic racial disparities; and
  • increasing accountability to directly impacted communities.
On-the-ground work with prosecutors

Vera’s team of experts works directly with prosecutors to transform campaign platforms into data-informed policies and practices that better pursue safety by exploring alternatives to traditional prosecution and centering racial equity. Vera’s Reshaping Prosecution team has worked with prosecutors in DeKalb County, Georgia; Ramsey County, Minnesota; Suffolk County, Massachusetts; Fairfax County, Virginia; Ingham County, Michigan; and Chittenden County, Vermont, among others.

Our team works with local prosecutors’ offices in two primary ways: site partnerships and its Motion for Justice campaign.

Site Partnerships

In site partnerships, Vera works with local prosecutor’s offices for 12 months, during which we guide them through a process of research, community engagement, assessment, and recommendations to help these key actors reshape their efforts toward community safety:

  1. Gather and analyze administrative data to summarize decisions the office makes, while also listening to local communities most impacted by the criminal legal system to assess community-specific needs and including community members as co-researchers;
  2. Develop policy recommendations to improve safety by reducing the number of people entering the system, promoting racial equity, and increasing transparency with the community;
  3. Implement the recommendations through training staff in the prosecutor’s office and building long-term engagements of communities with the office; and
  4. Measure the effectiveness of the policy and share that information publicly so that the community can track the office’s progress, focusing on those outcomes and indicators of progress that matter most to impacted communities.

To learn more about our past site partnerships:

Pushing Forward: Prosecution Reform and Racial Equity across Six Counties

Envisioning Safety: Community-Driven Prosecution Reform in Wyandotte County

Motion For Justice

In 2020, Vera launched Motion for Justice to support communities in building durable public safety. In the program, Vera works with prosecutor’s offices and community-based organizations to improve safety by creating diversion programs that address the root causes of crime and center racial equity. Resources are available for community members, organizations, and prosecutor’s offices to use without applying. Visit Motion for Justice to learn more.

Safer Communities

Although Vera’s policy recommendations are targeted based on community needs, we recommend that prosecutors adopt a series of policies to improve safety by limiting who enters the criminal legal system and reducing racial disparities, including:

Collaboration between prosecutors and communities makes us all safer.

Research solutions to reshape prosecution

Reshaping Prosecution’s site engagement assessments are informed by a rigorous analysis of quantitative and qualitative data. We use this data to draft recommendations for prosecutor’s offices and build evidence of the success and safety of diversion programs.

Our quantitative research comes primarily from an analysis of offices’ case management systems—the databases that track detailed information about all of each office’s cases and their decisions. Our findings can point to where prosecution may be racially inequitable, overly punitive, or simply overused. It can also highlight where creative alternatives to prosecution can reduce the number of people entering the criminal legal system.

Our qualitative research focuses on working directly with the communities most impacted by prosecutors’ policies and decisions. We speak to individuals who are actively caught up in the system, as well as their families, loved ones, and neighbors. Following a Participatory Action Research (PAR) framework, we train community members as co-researchers to work in partnership with us at all stages of the process—from developing the research design to sharing the results. We use qualitative research methods, including interviews, focus groups, and surveys, to listen and connect community members to stakeholders—and to empower them to advocate for solutions.

To learn more about how impactful this research can be, read our report about Community-Driven Prosecution Reform in Wyandotte County

Contact us
Mona Sahaf Director, Reshaping Prosecution

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