Beyond Reform: Four Virtues of a Transformational Prosecutor


The second wave of prosecutor reform has arrived. While the number of prosecutors pursuing significant changes to the criminal legal system is still a small fraction of those defending and sustaining mass incarceration, it’s also true that a dividing line has been passed. There have been exponential leaps in awareness regarding the tragic and avoidable consequences of prosecutors’ policies. That awareness has spread within impacted communities and among advocates, candidates, and—in steadily increasing numbers—voters. It has broken open and penetrated a once monolithic prosecutorial culture. Compared to ten or even five years ago, we live in a vastly different landscape.

This changing landscape presents new opportunities and new challenges. As the reform movement builds power and continues to open up political space for change and accountability, the demands made on prosecutors must evolve to ensure the long-term trajectory stays fixed on ending mass incarceration and systemic racism, not just tinkering at the edges. As reform rhetoric becomes normalized and rewarded, voters must be increasingly wary of candidates and elected prosecutors merely paying lip service to change.


Stanford University Stanford, California
  • Taylor Pendergrass and Somil Trivedi, Beyond Reform: Four Virtues of a Transformational Prosecutor, 16 Stan. J. C.R. & C.L. 434 (2021).
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