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After years of focusing efforts on private prisons, mandatory sentences and money bail, people trying to change the criminal justice system have identified another target: prosecutors. In an influential book last year, Fordham University professor John Pfaff argued prosecutors were the main driver behind the soaring U.S. incarceration rate — almost always unwatched and unopposed. Left-leaning philanthropist George Soros and the ACLU, among others, are recruiting and funding district attorney candidates who promise to curtail the use of the death penalty, expand diversion programs and stop prosecuting low-level crimes. There is even a new stab at a Progressive Prosecutor’s Handbook.
Still, what district attorneys say in public and what they and their staffers do in the courtroom could be worlds apart, and few might ever know. Legislators can be held accountable to a voting record, but much of what prosecutors do goes unrecorded. "A lot of the information we care about — how prosecutors use their extraordinary discretion — is not being captured in any way whatsoever," said Udi Ofer, who runs the ACLU’s national effort to elect new prosecutors.
Enter local court watchers, groups that ask ordinary people to watch the daily machinery of the justice system and report back what they see. The latest offshoot, Court Watch NYC, launched this week.
The newest group plans to keep close tabs on Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who announced last month his office would no longer ask judges to set bail in low-level misdemeanor cases, and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, who said he implemented a similar policy in April.
Read the full article about the group monitoring the criminal justice system as it happens at The Marshall Project.