Summary Of The Project
The California District Attorney Association Foundation seeks to educate and inform individuals of color and others about the importance of prosecutors in creating safe communities and representing victims, encourage careers in this area of public law before law school, and create cultural awareness that will help dispel the distrust in a criminal justice system that is charged with protecting ALL of California’s citizens.
Altering people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors are the very core of the Prosecutor’s Diversity Project. Both sides of the equation need be addressed. The cultural beliefs that lead community members away from a career with a prosecution office must be confronted. Equally, the prosecution office will be enriched and more effective at relating to everyone in the community, including victims, witnesses, jurors, and other key players in the justice system.
Inclusion of educators, career development professionals, and community leaders is essential to the successful integration of cultural, racial, educational and career goals. To achieve this goal, there must exist a group of people dedicated to interfacing with these leaders.
“We must create prosecutors’ offices that not only reflect the community in which we live and work but also encourage a robust discussion of different views of the criminal justice system.”
— Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, from a speech to the Black Prosecutors Association of Los Angeles (June 2016)
California, like the rest of the nation, has reeled from the constant media and legislative attention given to significant questions about the functionality of our criminal justice system. The public has become wary of the current system, in which prosecutors play an integral part. Prosecutors charge defendants with crimes, investigate officer-involved shootings, select juries, and represent the interests of victims. As with all areas of law enforcement, the makeup of the prosecutor’s office should reflect the community they represent and serve. This would go a long way in stopping the erosion of trust in California’s criminal justice system.
Currently, significant cultural barriers and lack of educational opportunities stand in the way of moving communities and the state to a place of trust with the criminal justice system. There are too few minorities enrolled in law school, and those who do seek a career in the legal field, largely shun prosecutor offices. Often, minority graduates of law school see prosecutors as the ones creating inequity in the criminal justice system, so they seek employment with the defense bar or pursue the more lucrative private firm. This situation, if unaddressed, creates significant problems.
It is important that minority representation is maintained in the defense ranks, but it is equally important that the decisions made in prosecution offices represent the cultural and racial realities of the communities they protect. A community’s perception of fairness can be enhanced if its members feel that they have something in common with the people who work as prosecutors. Equally, it is essential that a racially diverse and representative cadre of public lawyers in general burgeon, because these are the people who most often guide our elected leaders in matters of public policy.
This cannot be achieved without attention to California’s educational system. Currently, there are no programs that guide students to careers as public prosecutors. Typically, this does not even become an opportunity for discussion until law school.
According to a 2015 report (LINK: https://www-cdn.law.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Stuck-in-the-70s-Final-Report.pd), from Stanford University, African-Americans comprise 5.7 percent of California’s population and 5.8 percent of its prosecutors. Asians comprise 14.2 percent of the state’s population and 11.8 percent of its prosecutors. Latinos, however, are heavily under-represented, the report found. Latinos comprise 38.6 percent of the state’s population, but only 9.4 percent of its prosecutors.
In a 2016 Stanford University follow-up report (LINK: https://law.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Diversity-Case-Studies-Final-3.12.16.pdf), it was noted that the challenges to increasing prosecutor diversity include the lack of individuals of color graduating from law school, which necessarily limits the pool of candidates; the difficulty in competing with law firms for diverse candidates; and the negative perception of prosecutors among racial minority groups.