Because so many of their decisions are made outside of the public eye, prosecutors’ offices are often referred to as the “black boxes” of America’s criminal justice system.
So when the American Bar Association’s flagship publication wanted to produce an in-depth report on the wave of reform-minded prosecutors seeking to increase transparency and fairness in the system, they spoke to prosecutors leading the charge, along with several of the nation’s top experts in criminology and criminal justice.
Among those interviewed for the article, which appears on the cover of the prestigious ABA Journal this month, was FIU professor Besiki Kutateladze, an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice and the lead researcher on FIU’s $1.7 million study of prosecutor behavior funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge.
“Dr. Kutateladze is engaged in one of the most important prosecutorial research initiatives happening in the U.S. right now,’’ said John F. Stack Jr., dean of the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs. “We are so proud of the work that he and the entire team at the Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice are doing. Their efforts will have major implications for the future of criminal justice reform in this country.’’
The grant – the largest ever awarded to FIU by the MacArthur Foundation – will fund a two-year project to examine prosecutor data and policies in four cities nationwide: Jacksonville, Tampa, Chicago and Milwaukee. A partnership between FIU and Loyola University Chicago, the project’s goal is to improve prosecutor decision-making by making it more data-driven, thereby reducing the risk of racial and ethnic disparities.
Already, the study has produced an initial report on prosecutor attitudes. Among the findings: While racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system are a widely acknowledged fact among prosecuting attorneys, most prosecutors do not think they contribute to these disparities. Nor do they believe there is much they can do to alleviate the problem.
As Kutateladze noted in the ABA Journal, the most widely read legal affairs publication in the country:
“There is greater pressure for transparency and accountability and to do something about racial and ethnic disparities and the burgeoning prison industry … No one mechanism is going to be effective on its own. There has to be community pressure, political pressure, funders need to continue their work, researchers need to provide meaningful assistance to prosecutorial offices. All that can make a difference. But it takes a while.”