Across the country, a new wave of prosecutors is working to reverse the damaging effects of decades of over-incarceration, attempting to make progress in the face of criticism from the nation’s top law enforcement officials — Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.
Both men have shown a lack of understanding when it comes to prosecutorial reform — Barr in a column written his month in which he criticized “‘social justice’ DAs” and “‘progressive’ judges” and another written last month by Rosen that accused prosecutors of “shirking” their duty.
Their criticism hinges on the belief that the criminal justice system is not broken, “sensible” law enforcement policies have reduced crime and reform prosecutors’ policies risk public safety in their own communities. Barr even made what sounded like a veiled threat, stating during an awards ceremony that if communities don’t start respecting cops (i.e., if they don’t end protests and demands for a more merciful justice system), their police might stop protecting them.
These comments are misleading, incorrect and, more than anything, demonstrate that Barr and Rosen don’t understand the modern prosecutor’s job.
The idea that the criminal justice system is not broken appears to stem from an indifference to historical trends and current realities. Incarceration rates may have begun to tick down, but the United States remains far and away the world’s incarceration leader, with 2.2 million people behind bars. Jails process 10 million admissions every year. And we spend too much to incarcerate too many — at least $80 billion a year. In this country, spending on the very systems Barr and Rosen claim are working, has outpaced spending on education.