NEW YORK - A new study by the Reflective Democracy Campaign shows little diversity among elected prosecutors. Just 4% are men of color, and 1% are women of color. 78% are white men.
“I think that excluding women and people of color from that really important function in the criminal justice system is just bound to lead to inequality,” said Brenda Choresi Carter, Director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign.
Prosecutors can charge a defendant with a felony, or bring no case at all. When negotiating plea deals, they can push for a heavy prison sentence or probation.
“We have to be mindful of the fact that we have a tremendous amount of power that we are not to abuse,” said Melba Pearson, President of the National Black Prosecutors Association.
In just two weeks, the NBPA will hold a jobs fair for young black lawyers.
“We do see counties and states actively recruiting. I’d love to see more of those states mentioned in that study come and try and recruit,” said Pearson.
In New York, just five out of 53 elected district attorneys are black, hispanic or latino. Nine are women.
In New Jersey, most prosecutors are appointed by the Governor. Only Warren County elects a prosecutor. Much like the study’s findings however, the majority of New Jersey prosecutors are white.
“The majority of people being charged in the criminal justice system, arrested in the criminal justice system are people of color,” said Susan Gottesfeld. She works directly with defendants as the Associate Executive Director of the Osborne Association, a non-profit which provides services to individuals and families working their way through the criminal justice system.
“It is important to have more racial representation among the decision makers,” she said, while also noting that diversity among judges and lower level prosecutors should also be taken into account.
While the debate about the treatment of black men by the criminal justice system is ongoing, Choresi Carter says she hopes this study helps to draw attention to one part of the system where something can get changed with the push of a button.
“We really want to draw attention to the fact that we have democratic control over who occupies these seats,” said Choresi Carter.
A large problem in many districts studied, however, is how 85% of prosecutors run without any opposing candidates.