When Prosecutors Politick: Progressive Law Enforcers Then and Now

37 Pages Posted: 27 May 2020

See all articles by Rebecca Roiphe

Rebecca Roiphe

New York Law School

Bruce A. Green

Fordham University School of Law

Date Written: May 8, 2020


A new and recognizable group of reform-minded prosecutors has assumed the mantle of progressive prosecution. The term is hard to define in part because its adherents embrace a diverse set of policies and priorities. In comparing the contemporary movement with Progressive Era prosecutors, this Article has two related goals. First, it seeks to better define progressive prosecution. Second, it uses the historical example to draw some lessons for the current movement. Both groups of prosecutors were elected on a wave of popular support. Unlike today’s mainstream prosecutors who tend to campaign and labor in relative obscurity, these two sets of prosecutors received a good deal of popular attention and support. The Progressive Era reformers introduced the notion promoted by current progressive prosecutors that crime is a social phenomenon, which community services are better equipped to address than prisons. The Progressive Era movement also sought to implement professional norms and practices to promote the values of fairness and proportionality. Contemporary progressive prosecutors inherit this legacy but tend not to emphasize these professional values. The Article concludes that the professional values championed in the Progressive Era are critical, in conjunction with new programs and policies, to ensure that as innovation helps achieve social justice, prosecution remains in the hands of those committed to fair and even-handed justice.

Keywords: Prosecution, Legal Ethics, Progressive Prosecutors, Professionalism, Progressive Era

Suggested Citation

Roiphe, Rebecca and Green, Bruce A., When Prosecutors Politick: Progressive Law Enforcers Then and Now (May 8, 2020). Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Forthcoming, NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 3596249, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3596249.

Rebecca Roiphe (Contact Author)

New York Law School ( email )

185 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013
United States
212-431-2804 (Phone)

Bruce A. Green

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
212-636-6851 (Phone)
212-636-6899 (Fax)

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