Prosecutors play a vital role in the criminal justice system. After an arrest, prosecutors have numerous choices to make regarding whether and how to pursue prosecution of an offense. In many jurisdictions, prosecutors use this discretion to pursue prosecutions of subfelony violations to the full extent of the criminal law. In these jurisdictions, cases involving subfelony offenses typically consume a large share of law enforcement, prosecutorial, and judicial resources.
Yet it is unclear whether the aggressive prosecution of subfelony offenses actually reduces offender recidivism; the practice may actually result in increased recidivism, and/or the escalation of minor offending into more serious offending. The practice may also exacerbate existing inequalities in criminal justice outcomes. Some prosecutors’ offices, however, are pursuing reforms that implement alternatives to prosecution for subfelony offenses.
With the support of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and in partnership with the Justice Tech Lab at Texas A&M University, we are investigating the impacts of these reforms on offender recidivism, and designing and experimentally testing a decision assist tool to support prosecutorial decisions that reduce reoffending.