mass incarceration
The Witness

What Christians Who Care About Mass Incarceration Need to Know About District Attorneys

Jemar Tisby

This article was first published on the Soujourners Magazine website. Click here for the original and more content!

American has a crisis of mass incarceration, and it has little to do with crime rates. The system is broken: America imprisons more of its citizens than any other nation in the world. Even though the United States contains just 5 percent of the world’s population, the nation has nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. At every point, from the laws on sentencing to policing practices and health conditions in prisons, impersonal forces exact a very personal toll on incarcerated persons and their families.

Many citizens have started to work on solutions by raising awareness, legalizing drugs such as marijuana, and passing laws that require police officers to wear body cameras. But one critical function of our legal system has received too little attention from Christians and the rest of the public: local prosecutors.

Local prosecutors, or district attorneys, as they are formally known, hold enormous influence. These 2,400 individuals nationwide have the authority to determine when, how, and how severely to charge a person with a crime. They help determine when someone goes home and when someone goes to prison for decades. Their decisions could mean the difference between an innocent person going free or going on death row.

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1 Comment

  1. Thomas W.

    The linked to article, I think requires a subscription to read all of it.

    Is it possible to repost it all here yet?

    Though we certainly don’t think much about the prosecutors across the country, they are still bound by max sentencing options, bound by the judge and jury for the extent of mercy in the end.

    “Their decisions could mean the difference between an innocent person going free or going on death row.”

    Though it happens, not often is the “innocent” person being sentenced.

    I’m all about transforming our culture’s concept of prison though. I think it should look far more like it used to, or even like OT Israel. Thieves paid 5 times what they stole, thus non-violent crimes should result in other options that actually benefit those they’ve harmed, not put in a cell, ultimately draining more resources. Convicted murderers were executed promptly. They didn’t have long term prisons. Larry Nassar should have been executed within the week he was convicted, instead he gets 175 years which is pretty much meaningless in any sort of concept of justice apart from at least being unable to hurt any more women.

    Our prison/criminal system is dysfunctional because our sense of justice and mercy is shallow, compounded by the persistent world view that legalism can prevent bad behavior, and that prison can reform.

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