Envisioning Safety: Community-Driven Prosecution Reform in Wyandotte County

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Prosecutors have wide-ranging discretion in making their decisions at many stages in a case—from charging and requests for detention and bail to plea bargaining and sentencing. Too often, these decisions—even if well intentioned—harm communities, especially communities of color and communities experiencing poverty.

Vera’s partnership with Wyandotte County District Attorney (DA) Mark Dupree’s office from 2019 to 2022 represented a unique pilot to center marginalized voices in prosecution reform efforts. This engagement paired traditional quantitative assessment with an innovative qualitative framework—Participatory Action Research (PAR). Following a PAR model, Vera trained community members on qualitative methods and worked with them as co-researchers to gather information from people of color and people experiencing poverty in Wyandotte County about what they need to feel safe and how the DA can help. The work resulted in powerful anecdotes about the harms of the criminal legal system and findings illustrating how the DA can support change.

Key Takeaway

The site engagement identified five key areas Wyandotte County can address to reduce racial and economic disparities in the criminal legal system: (1) policing and non–public safety stops; (2) disparate use of bail/bond; (3) disparities in pretrial detention; (4) plea deals and lack of trust in protection of rights; and (5) race differences in charging.

Key Facts