Research Questions

  1. What are the most-pressing challenges that prosecutors face today?
  2. What solutions could help mitigate some of these challenges to enhance the capacity of state and local prosecutors in the United States?

State and local prosecutors face an ever-increasing array of challenges and responsibilities, including recruiting and retaining talented and diverse prosecutors and handling, storing, and using growing bodies of evidence generated through modern technology. In March 2018, the Priority Criminal Justice Needs Initiative convened an expert panel to identify priority needs and solutions for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the prosecutorial component of the criminal justice system. During the workshop, participants explored needs relating to staffing and resources, digital information, organizational data, litigation strategies, accountability, and partnerships and collaboration. High-priority needs identified for action included developing better training resources and tools for the assessment of staffing needs, researching promising practices for responding to witness intimidation and tampering, and examining the effectiveness of plea and diversion options currently in use.

Key Findings

Prosecutors' challenges

  • Some of the most-pressing challenges that prosecutors face are related to difficulties recruiting, training, managing, and retaining staff.
  • Prosecutors struggle with the demanding and time-consuming tasks for identifying, tracking, storing, and disclosing officer misconduct and discipline issues, as well as collecting and reporting disclosure obligations related to the Brady and Giglio standards.
  • Prosecutors are challenged by the inadequate or inconsistent collection of data and other information shared among agencies, their partners, and the community, as well as by emerging digital and forensic technologies.

High-priority needs and solutions

  • Workshop participants identified 28 high-priority needs for innovation to enhance the capacity of state and local prosecutors in the United States.
  • Research to better understand ways to improve staff recruitment, training, and retention would best support many of the challenges that prosecutors face.
  • Prosecutors need guidance on maximizing case investigation and trial resources.
  • Workshop participants also identified several areas in which researchers need to explore the most-promising practices for responding to prosecutors' challenges. These areas include, among others, preventing and responding to witness intimidation and tampering, determining the most effective ratio of prosecutorial staff and support staff, determining whether different combinations of problem-solving and litigation strategies can reduce crime, and storing and retrieving digital evidence in the long term.

Recommendation

  • The ever-evolving nature of the challenges described in this report will affect prosecutors' work in new ways; however, many of these issues and their effects on prosecutors' work are not yet well understood. Rigorous research that aims to better understand and identify appropriate responses can lead to solutions that help improve the efficiency, legitimacy, and administration of justice in prosecutors' offices and, by extension, the criminal justice system.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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