Progressive prosecution in Georgia’s future
Published 9:26 pm Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Over the weekend, I ran across the word “progressive prosecution” on Twitter. I noticed that a number of our younger, recently elected District Attorneys (DA) were embracing the idea. The group of DAs were Republicans and Democrats. I was very curious.
So, I called Brian Fortner, the DA in the Douglas County Circuit. He was very enthusiastic about this new philosophy that focuses on improving our community by being tough on violent criminals and smart on cases involving defendants with drug, alcohol, and/or mental health problems. He is implementing the principles of progressive prosecution right now.
Now, anytime I hear the word “progressive”, I instantly become skeptical. The word is often used by left wing organizations that I generally do not agree with.
But, my skepticism was removed when I looked into the quality of the people involved, definition and vision of progressive prosecution. Instead of “progressive,” it is actually intelligent prosecution.
The philosophy can be found at an organization called Fair and Just Prosecution (FJP). The website is Fairandjustprosecution.org.
According to FJP, they bring together newly elected local prosecutors as part of a network of leaders committed to promoting a justice system grounded in fairness, equity, compassion and fiscal responsibility. These recently elected leaders and the vision they share for safer and healthier communities, are supported by FJP’s network through ongoing information sharing, research and resource materials, opportunities for on the ground learning, in-person convenings, technical assistance and access to national experts.
As in many states, particularly Georgia, significant strides have been made in promoting justice reforms that recognize that prior “only tough on crime” and incarceration-driven practices have not resulted in safer or healthier communities. New ideas have started to permeate criminal justice agencies and have prompted proactive and prevention-oriented strategies.
Similar to Gov. Nathan Deal’s criminal justice reforms that began years ago because the “lock em up and throw away the key” approach did not work, cost our state millions of dollars, reduced tax revenue, did not address the underlying cause of most crime (drugs, alcohol and mental illness), did not keep our communities safer and ripped families apart for years. FJP is enabling a new generation of leaders to move beyond incarceration-driven approaches and develop policies that promote a smarter, more fiscally conservative and more equitable justice system. Some examples include drug courts, DUI courts, mental health courts and other accountability courts.
Since criminal justice policy is primarily set at the state and local levels, our community prosecutors exercise tremendous control over who will come into the justice system, what charges they will face and the direction of their case. Acceptance or rejection of progressive prosecution by prosecutors will directly shape its fate.
As with any successful organization or policy change, a strong action plan is needed. According to FJP, their action plan includes:
Building a network of new prosecutors willing to rethink past practices, consider effective new approaches and connect to other leaders in the field.
Creating learning opportunities for newly-elected prosecutors through site visits, research materials and access to key national leaders and experts.
Supporting newly elected leaders as they develop, implement and champion effective changes to policies and practices in the criminal justice system.
Lifting up the work and collective voice of elected prosecutors as they model new ways to envision our justice system.
Partnering with, and connecting new prosecutors to, local and national organizations and resources, academic institutions and experts committed to supporting smart prosecution.
While I have not seen progressive prosecution in its full form yet, as a conservative, I am excited about the idea. Again, this approach seems to fit Gov. Deal’s criminal justice reforms during his two terms; perhaps his most important legacy he will leave as governor.
Don’t misunderstand, there are some dangerous predators who need to be in prison in order to protect the community. But, this new approach seems to converge on what we are already doing in Georgia; establishing alternatives to incarceration and giving people second chances.
I like this idea and am hopeful that the vision of progressive prosecution as explained by the FJP becomes the norm in Georgia.
Jason W. Swindle Sr. is a Senior Partner and Criminal Defense Attorney at Swindle Law Group in Carrollton.