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A consensus is growing that the era of mass incarceration must end. But there’s significantly less agreement on what created it in the first place—and where to look for solutions.
The war on drugs has rightly been scrutinized for its role in contributing to the expansion of the prison population, but the role of prosecutors – with their tremendous discretionary power -- has received far less attention. Local prosecutors are one of the main drivers of mass incarceration, favoring felony convictions with longer sentences, offering punitive plea bargains, and overpowering public defenders in resources and influence.
A movement to focus reform efforts on the district attorney’s office is now underway. In November a handful of reform-minded prosecutors were elected who have bucked Trump’s “law and order” tide and vowed to reduce sentences and provide more alternatives to incarceration. Chicago’s Kim Foxx is one of them.
On Tuesday, September 12, she’ll join a panel arranged by WBEZ Chicago and The Marshall Project to discuss the role of prosecutors in driving mass incarceration, what reforms are necessary - and what is politically possible. The event will include:
Kim Foxx, Cook County prosecutor elected in 2016 with a mandate for change.
Sharone Mitchell, program director at the Illinois Justice Project. Previously, Mitchell was a trial attorney with the Cook County Public Defender’s Office from 2009 to 2016.
Bill Keller, editor-in-chief of The Marshall Project, a nonprofit newsroom that covers the US criminal justice system. Keller is the former Executive Editor of The New York Times.
Robert Wildeboer (moderator), WBEZ Chicago’s Criminal Justice Desk Senior Editor.