The Atlantic

Prosecutors Need to Take the Lead in Reforming Prisons

Attorneys on the front lines of the criminal-justice system should be pressing for a drastically different model of incarceration.
Source: Eric Risberg / Associated Press

More than a decade into my career as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, I investigated a murder on upper Broadway, in which two masked men opened fire in a busy street, shooting four people nonfatally and point-blank murdering a fifth. Over the course of an 18-month investigation and a six-week jury trial, I spent countless hours with the heartbroken mother of the murdered young man to ensure that the killers—two men in their 20s—were held accountable. Jurors had tears in their eyes when they delivered guilty verdicts against both defendants. For the murdered young man and his bereaved mother, a measure of justice had been achieved.

I called the victim’s mother the morning after the verdict, and when I asked her how she was, she replied, “I slept all night for the first time since my son was killed. But when I woke up, all I could think about were the mothers of those two young men.”

My years of prosecuting violent street crime and working with crime survivors and their families had deeply sensitized me to the devastating impact of violent crime on individuals and communities. In fact, not so long ago,

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