Principle #5: Make Punishment Fair
i. Treat Kids Like Kids.
Children’s brains continue developing until around the age of 25 and research supports their enhanced capacity for rehabilitation. As a result, children should not be prosecuted in adult court, nor should they be given punishments that preclude the opportunity for redemption. Locally-elected prosecutors should adopt the following policies to ensure that children are treated like children in the criminal justice system.
Adopt an office-wide policy stating that your office will never seek a sentence of life without parole, or any practically equivalent sentence, for any person under the age of 18.
Refrain from using direct file or transfer to adult court for any child unless required by law. In the extremely rare circumstances when a juvenile is sent to adult court, their youthful status and unique circumstances should be taken into account as mitigating factors at each stage of the process, from charging decisions through final disposition.
Do not prosecute school suspension or expulsion cases where there is no use or threat of force resulting in serious physical harm.
Publicly support changing any and all laws that require children to be prosecuted as adults, including through legislation that raises the age of adult criminal responsibility.
ii. Do Not Seek the Death Penalty
The use of the death penalty has become increasingly isolated to a handful of jurisdictions within the United States. There is mounting evidence that the death penalty is fraught with error, provides no additional public safety benefit over other available sentences, and is routinely used against individuals with diminished culpability, including persons with intellectual disabilities and severe mental illness, youthful offenders under the age of 21, and those who have experienced extreme childhood trauma. Locally-elected prosecutors should use their discretion not to seek the death penalty.
Refuse to seek death in all capital prosecutions.
Publicly support repeal of the death penalty.
Examine previously-imposed death sentences within your county and seek negotiated resolutions for sentences less than death, particularly when there is substantial evidence that the death-sentenced individual suffers from an intellectual disability or serious mental illness, or was under the age of 21 at the time of the offense, or experienced childhood trauma.
iii. Promote Proportionate Sentencing and
Pathways to Second Chances
People are more than their worst acts, and even people who commit the most serious offenses often change their lives profoundly over time. To recognize the worth and potential for growth in all people, it is important for local prosecutors to provide individualized consideration to the character and background of each person and to the circumstances surrounding the commission of the offense. It also is critical for elected prosecutors to promote opportunities for release, through parole or clemency, and to help remove barriers to reentering society for those who are released from incarceration.
Establish an office-wide presumption that the least severe applicable charges apply, and that the lowest sentencing outcome is the correct recommendation. Require prosecutors to justify departures to their supervisors, and require that the chief assistant prosecutor approve all maximum sentences sought.
Establish an office policy against increasing or threatening to increase the number or severity of charges in order to secure more favorable plea dispositions or waivers of rights.
Publicly oppose any proposed legislation that would create new mandatory minimum sentences or lengthen existing minimum sentences and support legislation aiming to eliminate such sentences.
Support second chances, even for those who commit serious offenses, by both limiting parole opposition to those cases in which there is a demonstrable and serious risk of future violence and committing to affirmatively advocate for parole on behalf of those who demonstrate growth and maturity during their incarceration.
iv. Eliminate Unnecessary Punishments
Criminal punishments for certain crimes, including quality-of-life offenses, are by definition excessive. They saddle people who do not pose a public safety risk with criminal records, which become lifelong barriers to economic success.
Stop prosecutions for broken-windows offenses like criminal trespass, public urination, and turnstile jumping.
Establish diversion programs for offenses where those charged pose no public safety risk, such as low level theft and criminal mischief.