Prosecutors are driving America's mass incarceration

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  • A Vox article[1] profiles a 2017 book by Fordham University criminal justice expert John Pfaff. The article says that "It’s not solely police and lawmakers leading to more incarceration and lengthy prison sentences, but prosecutors who are by and large out of the political spotlight."
    • "More than 90 percent of criminal convictions are resolved through a plea agreement"
    • "About 95 percent of incumbent prosecutors won reelection, and 85 percent ran unopposed in general elections."
    • Pfaff "compared the number of crimes, arrests, and prosecutions from 1994 to 2008. He found that reported violent and property crime fell, and arrests for almost all crimes also fell. But one thing went up: the number of felony cases filed in court."
  • According to another article by Vox[2], "Looking at California county-level data[3], Pfaff highlighted that some counties have much higher median sentences for their worst offenders than others. So while the state median for time served among the 95th percentile was 23 years in 2014, it was 33.5 years for San Francisco County, nearly 25 years for Los Angeles County, and 21 years for Sacramento County. The differences between high-population counties suggest there is a lot of variation in how prosecutors enforce the laws that state policymakers create for them."
    • Pfaff says that, “There’s an incredibly different story across counties, even among counties with similar populations. We don’t want to lose sight of trying to regulate the prosecutors, the plea deals they make, and how they charge people.”

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