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Reinventing American Prosecution Systems
Crime and Justice  (IF4.474),  Pub Date : 2017-01-01, DOI: 10.1086/688463
Ronald F. Wright

American prosecutors operate within legal and practical limits, just like any other public officials within a democratic form of government. Those limits are more anemic for prosecutors than for other criminal justice officials; they have also become less effective over time. The prosecutorial function can be reimagined with more effective legal, institutional, and internal cultural constraints that would produce responsive prosecutorial services: that is, prosecutors who respond to legal standards, to public safety local priorities, to input from other criminal justice actors, and to the lessons of experience. This effort to make prosecutors more responsive to other institutions and public sentiment runs counter to ideals in most other Western countries where the objective is a professionalized and insulated prosecutorial service. A more responsive prosecutor, however, is necessary in the United States because of the strong tradition of broad criminal codes and the ingrained expectations that prosecutors must serve justice and not just evaluate the legal sufficiency of individual cases. The prosecutor’s sense of justice—an essential supplement to the rule of law in the American context—must take shape within institutional checks and balances, guided by democratic priorities, and not just by the prosecutor’s individual morality.