October 1, 2000
Wiener Center for Social Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government
The goal in this paper is to offer a new framework for interpreting current developments in prosecution -- that of competing or evolving organizational strategies -- that may aid prosecutors in thinking strategically about new steps they are taking, contemplating, or perhaps resisting. The first task is to set out the strategy that has defined American prosecutors' offices throughout much of this century. The next section involves a consideration of the historical impetus that drove a number of prosecutors into thinking differently about the business of prosecution, especially events taking place in a crucial period from the late 1980s into the mid-1990s. These events, and the responses of prosecutors to them, posed a serious challenge to the dominant felony case processing strategy of prosecution. In the third section, the emergence of a new prosecutorial strategy is explored, with current prosecution practices and prosecutors' statements from around the country used to construct a model of the strategy. This model is explicitly tentative, for today's practices may well be transitory as the final shape and form of the strategy develop further. Nevertheless, its core element is evident: the prosecutor's new partnership with, and growing accountability to, private citizens in local neighborhoods within the community. The final section provides an assessment of how prosecutors are faring in moving into the new organizational strategy, including the organizational challenges that confront them and the record they have achieved to date.
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