Voters elect another cohort of prosecutors committed to justice reform.
In communities throughout the country, voters--many from marginalized communities most impacted by the criminal justice system--elected prosecutors who campaigned on platforms to change the justice system from the inside out by altering their office’s charging policies, reforming bail practices, and reducing the use of incarceration.
- In Missouri, Democrat Wesley Bell—a former prosecutor, public defender, judge, and Ferguson, Missouri City Councilman—was elected as St. Louis County’s first black lead prosecutor. In the August 2018 primary race, Bell beat incumbent Bob McCulloch, the prosecutor who had overseen the grand jury process in which officer Darren Wilson was not indicted for the killing of Michael Brown, and ran unopposed in November. Bell received support from several influential local and national advocacy groups, including Action St. Louis, the Ferguson Collaborative, Color of Change, and Real Justice PAC. Bell ran on a platform of ending mass incarceration through strategies such as reforming money bail, expanding drug and mental health courts, and increasing the use of diversion. Bell has also voiced support for policies that ensure prosecutors share potentially exculpatory evidence with defense counsel, as well as fully staffing a conviction integrity unit.
- In Suffolk County (Boston), Massachusetts, Democrat Rachael Rollins, a former federal prosecutor and general counsel for Massachusetts government agencies, was elected district attorney, the first woman of color to serve as lead prosecutor in the county. She ran as a criminal justice reformer, listing 15 crimes that her office will decline to prosecute—crimes that one legal scholar has said are “frequently motivated by poverty, homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse disorder, or some toxic interaction of these problems.” A better response, according to Rollins, is “appropriate community-based, no-cost programming, job training[,] or schooling.” Rollins has expressed a commitment to racial equity, as well as ending Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) access to the office’s database. She also supports ending the use of money bail. Rollins also mobilized voters and organizers most impacted by the justice system for her campaign, including people currently incarcerated in two Massachusetts prisons.
- In Dallas County, Texas, Democrat John Creuzot, a former state district judge, defeated Republican incumbent Faith Johnson to become district attorney. Creuzot ran on a justice reform platform, pledging to reduce Dallas County state jail and prison admissions by 15 to 20 percent within a four-year period. He promised to achieve this goal by, among other things, diverting “more than just drug cases,” employing less restrictive probation terms, and ending incarceration of individuals who have failed to pay fines or perform community service.
- In Bexar County (San Antonio), Texas, defense attorney Joe Gonzales was elected on a reform platform that included increasing diversion and limiting pretrial detention—in particular by pursuing bail reform so that people are not in jail simply because they are unable to afford to post bond. Gonzales also supports the creation of a cite-and-release program in place of arrest for lower-level offenses, such as marijuana possession, shoplifting, and driving with an invalid license.
- Reform-minded candidates were also elected in Jefferson County, Alabama; Maine’s Sixth Prosecutorial District; Berkshire County, Massachusetts; Cole County, Missouri; Hillsborough County, New Hampshire; Merrimack County, New Hampshire; Rensselaer County, New York; Durham County, North Carolina; Pitt County, North Carolina; Fort Bend County, Texas; and Chesterfield County, Virginia.
- In California, reform-minded district attorney candidates saw mixed results. Diana Becton, Contra Costa, California’s Interim District Attorney and a former judge, was elected to a full term as the country’s lead prosecutor—the first black person and first woman to lead the office. But reformers in the state’s other largest district attorney races of the year—in Alameda, Sacramento, and San Diego counties—lost to incumbent candidates.