Before jumping into the issues of the criminal justice system, let’s start with an exercise. Name the first five things that come to mind about mass incarceration in the United States. Was District Attorney (D.A.) on your list? No? Relax, you’re not alone. And if we just left you scratching your head and wondering, “what the hell is a D.A. and why do they matter?” don’t worry, we’ll break it down for you. Get ready, because what you’re about to read is shocking.
Let’s start with the fact that 90% of all cases never get to a judge or jury; instead, a D.A. makes a lot of key decisions like what charges to file, whether to charge a child as a juvenile or adult, who goes to prison, and for how long, etc. Oh, and they can also choose to drop a charges before it goes to trial. In fact, many argue that D.A.’s are more powerful than judges, police officers, other attorneys, and even the Supreme Court because they’re pretty much at the core of almost ALL cases that go through the system. Is your mind blown?
Now, how would you feel if we told you that 93% of ALL D.A.’s are white? And yes, that includes the D.A.’s in communities that are predominantly made up of people of color.
That shouldn’t matter, right? Well one thing is certain: our system is overrepresented with people of color. In twelve states, African Americans make up more than half of the prison population, and Hispanics account for about 61% of New Mexico’s inmates and 42% in both Arizona and California. Data also shows that that black inmates receive harsher punishments than white prisoners. Research has revealed the reasons why this is happening—and they are super complex—but what is shockingly obvious is that there is an over representation of people of color in jails and prisons.
To make things worse, in 2016 72% of all elected prosecutors ran unopposed in their elections. UNOPPOSED!
Yeah, we’re shaking our heads too, but don’t worry, there’s a silver lining! There are D.A.’s out there who are more focused on justice than convictions, and some are already shaking things up. It’s people like Larry Krasner—a D.A. from Philly who decided to sue big pharma and drop ALL marijuana possession charges—who give us hope, especially given that the failed war on drugs is a big part of the reason why our prisons are overflowing. Voting for D.A.’s who are working to reverse that failed policy is a really great start for reform.