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Can Prosecutors be Social Workers?

Kay L. Levine

Emory University School of Law

Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 05-41

How do prosecutors behave when the state puts them in charge of solving social problems? Drawing on interviews with prosecutors in California, this article investigates the degree to which problem-oriented strategies can transform the conventional prosecutorial role. The data show that problem-oriented prosecutors do become more responsive to the communities they serve and tend to develop creative and broad-ranging strategies to manage deviance within these communities. But there are significant limitations to the social worker role embedded in the problem orientation. First, problem-solving approaches are most compatible with chronic, low-level criminal offenses that hold little professional allure for prosecutors, who therefore have little incentive (at least in traditional professional terms) to devote time and energy to solving them. Second, the problem-oriented model produces among prosecutors a challenging role conflict, as the skills required for effective, creative problem-solving contrast sharply with those traits that traditionally define a good prosecutor. I argue that the prosecutorial role must be reconceptualized, and the institution of prosecution reconstituted, in order for problem-solving strategies to effectively take hold.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 26

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Date posted: December 13, 2005  

Suggested Citation

Levine, Kay L., Can Prosecutors be Social Workers?. THE CHANGING ROLE OF THE AMERICAN PROSECUTOR, John Worrall, ed., SUNY Press, 2007; Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 05-41. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=869433

Contact Information

Kay L. Levine (Contact Author)
Emory University School of Law ( email )
1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

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