Neighborhood Accountability Boards: A Case Study on the Promise and Limitations of Prosecutor-Led Reform


As the failings of the criminal justice system are revealed in stark terms, prosecutors emerge as agents of reform. This Article is an original case study of one prosecutor-led pilot reform project, which the Author directed. In 2017, the Jackson County, Missouri Prosecuting Attorney’s Office began a diversion for felony-level cases using restorative justice and functioning completely outside of the criminal justice system. A limited number of cases, including some involving violence, such as the case discussed here, were either dismissed or never filed and instead were sent to Neighborhood Accountability Boards. These panels were composed of individuals who live in high-crime communities and who work under the leadership of a restorative justice professional. They understand the damage crime causes, but also the pain wrought by the traditional system of addressing it. While restorative justice has long been used for lower-level crimes, the novelty of this program is in its willingness to divert felonies, including violent crimes, outside of the court system, and in its highly localized approach to confronting crime. The program has resulted in improved trust between the community and the prosecutor’s office. It also achieved justice in the specific case discussed here, as agreed by all parties: the victim, the defendant, and representatives of the community.

However, the success of the case discussed here also highlights the limitations of this type of program and indeed of prosecutor-led reform broadly. Prosecutors can make important gains in reforming the criminal justice system, but constitutional and institutional limitations ensure that systemic change cannot be the role of the prosecutor.


Stanford University Stanford, California
  • Kate Brubacher Murphy, Neighborhood Accountability Boards: A Case Study on the Promise and Limitations of Prosecutor-Led Reform, 16 Stan. J. C.R. & C.L. 421 (2021).
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