Today, Arnold Ventures is announcing $7.4 million in research grants to rigorously study prosecutor office policies, and provide greater awareness and insights into the decisions made every day by prosecutors across the United States.
The funding is awarded to 14 prosecution-related research projects that cover 19 states and 40 prosecutor offices — held by elected officials from across the political spectrum. The projects include studying cost-benefit analysis of pretrial diversion programs, measuring outcomes from prosecutorial recommendations on bail and detention, and research into prosecutors’ efforts to reduce racial disparities in the criminal legal system.
“Until now, prosecutorial discretion has been opaque and misunderstood,” said Kristin Bechtel, director of criminal justice at Arnold Ventures. “Research and transparency can help us understand the effects of prosecutors’ decision-making.”
Arnold Ventures is specifically focused on how prosecutors can use their discretion to promote racial equity, transparency and data-driven decision-making, use punitive measures sparingly, and prioritize a holistic approach to community safety.
“This support will help inform policy and practices and expand our understanding of how to build safe and racially just outcomes,” said Rebecca Silber, director of criminal justice at Arnold Ventures. “It will also lift up the research-prosecutor-community partnerships that sit at the core of these projects and are critical to building safety and justice.”
Researchers with Justice System Partners (JSP) will study the effects of individual and systemic variables on prosecutorial decision-making in Georgia and Virginia.
“We are excited about this work as it begins to unpack a part of the criminal justice system that has historically gone unseen. With 30-plus years of experience in corrections, I have never understood why we know so little about prosecutorial decision-making given the cascading impact it has on the rest of the corrections system. This series of studies will provide a great opportunity to listen, learn, and develop policies that will help make our criminal justice system more racially just and equitable,” said Brian Lovins, principal of JSP.
“Our office believes strongly in the importance of data-informed prosecution and the role it plays in an equitable justice system. More deeply understanding and refining what guides prosecutorial decision-making has the power to greatly impact and improve individual, community, and large-scale outcomes. We are excited and hopeful about this project and the positive impact it can have in the creation of a more just system,” said Jenna Vaisvil, director of external relations, Georgia’s Western Judicial Circuit, Athens-Clarke, and Oconee Counties.
Researchers with the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) will examine how prosecutors make diversion decisions and assess system outcomes in Jefferson County, Ala., and Westchester County, N.Y.
“I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved in the first year of Fresh Start, a forward-thinking program that helps foster our goal of sustainable, safe communities. Through our successful partnership with county government and law enforcement, our community-first approach provides alternatives that research suggests will reduce crime while allowing non-violent individuals facing low-level charges a chance to reset their course before becoming embedded in the cycle of recidivism. We welcome the opportunity to partner with Arnold Ventures and RTI to gather data and to study the impact of prosecutor-led diversion,” said Westchester County District Attorney Miriam E. Rocah.
“As Westchester County’s Chief Executive, I am responsible for the county government’s finances. Included in that is the role of determining the value of every program in our county, and every dollar spent on those programs. While we know that a program like Fresh Start that successfully diverts people from the criminal justice system saves tax dollars, it is important to be able to prove it. With the evaluation component developed jointly with RTI, Westchester will have a better understanding of the ways Fresh Start serves our county and its taxpayers,” said Westchester County Executive George Latimer.
“Fresh Start is an innovative collaborative program that is helping Westchester to build a seamless criminal justice diversion system. We believe the work we are doing will ultimately become a model for other counties and communities, and the ability to properly evaluate our work is a major step toward reaching that goal,” said Westchester County Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Community Mental Health, Joseph A. Glazer.
Researchers with Texas Southern University and Justice System Partners will analyze the cost and benefits of prosecutor diversion programs compared to traditional case processing, looking at programs in rural and urban prosecutors’ offices in Colorado, Mississippi, California and Texas.
“This project centers an interdisciplinary research team dedicated to rigorously studying prosecutor decision-making. Through this work, we have the opportunity to provide evidence that will help prosecution better understand community-based alternatives to incarceration,” said Howard Henderson, Texas Southern University professor and founding director of the Center for Justice Research.
“Prosecutors anecdotally understand the positive ways in which prosecutorial led diversion programs can change the trajectory of individuals and communities. This project is an exciting opportunity to empirically establish how diversion opportunities across our country may benefit the fiscal and social health of individuals and communities,” said Carrie-Pettus Davis, principal with Justice System Partners.
Researchers with Harvard University, partnering with the Transformational Prison Project, will study how non-prosecution of non-violent misdemeanors differentially affects penal system outcomes by race and ethnicity.
“At the Transformational Prison Project (TPP) we believe that the people closest to the problem are the experts, that lived experience lends an abundance of insight and connection to solutions. TPP is grateful to partner with HKS to help uncover the impact of Presumptive Non-prosecution of Misdemeanor Offenses and how it affects racial disparities in current and future penal system outcomes,” said Armand Coleman, co-founder and executive director of the Transformational Prison Project.
Researchers with Indiana University will study the use of prosecutorial discretion for traffic and misdemeanor cases from charging through sentencing, documenting racial and ethnic disparities across decision-making, assessing local diversion policy and practices, and providing public-facing data to promote transparency and accountability.
“The criminal justice system can fall short of our constitutional commitments to equality and fairness, and several prosecutors around the country are working to identify and address those shortfalls. Because our nation’s criminal justice systems are decentralized, it is incumbent upon local prosecutors to study their practices and develop policies and procedures to improve equity, transparency, and efficacy in their communities. My office is partnering with Lake County Prosecuting Attorney Bernard Carter, Monroe County Branch NAACP, and Indiana University to prove that this important work can be done in communities of various sizes, not just in metropolitan jurisdictions,” said Monroe County Prosecutor Erika Oliphant.
“One of the things that I’m most excited about for this project is the ability to bring community members into the research process. In collaborating with community organizers, we’re giving the most important stakeholders a seat at the table. This project isn’t just about answering traditional research questions but allowing those closest to the system to have a say in what research needs to be prioritized,” said Tri Keah S. Henry, assistant professor at Indiana University.
“As an academic, I am excited to see our findings for the project; I think we will have a lot of information that the public can use to sponsor change. As a Black man, however, I am interested to see if this project will help offer some validity to many advocates for change across the nation,” said Marshall Allen, NAACP Monroe County chapter’s research liaison.
“The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Monroe County Branch is passionately concerned for the safety of our community. We understand the need to be a collaborative partner to create community policy. We have the opportunity to do just that through Arnold Ventures’ ‘Promoting Racial Justice and Transparency,’ partnering with Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney Erika Oliphant and Lake County Prosecuting Attorney Bernard Carter. We believe that public safety and justice are important to invest in as it relates to ensuring equity and eliminating racial, gender and disabled bias,” said Maqubè Reese, NAACP Monroe County chapter’s first vice president.
Researchers with Claremont Graduate University will estimate the impact of increased use of diversion programs on case disposition and recidivism outcomes in Dallas County and the City of Los Angeles.
“Program and policy evaluation are some of the most valuable insights that academics can provide to criminal justice agencies to enhance community safety. Engaging in research directly with prosecutor’s offices provides one of the most meaningful ways for program and policy evaluation to be conducted, ensuring that the analysis accurately reflects decisions related to programs and policies. Through these partnerships, there is more confidence in the conclusions that are reached, which can result in impactful, positive change,” said Greg DeAngelo, associate professor of economic sciences and director of the Computational Justice Lab at Claremont Graduate University.
Overview of Arnold Ventures Prosecution Research Projects
1. Project Title: Effective and Just Prosecution
Organization Name: Social Science Research Council (SSRC)
Project Lead: Anna Harvey
2. Project Title: Drivers of Prosecutorial Decision-Making
Organization Name: Justice System Partners (JSP)
Project Lead: Brian Lovins
3. Project Title: Evaluating Racial Equity in Pennsylvania’s Prosecutorial Processes and Generating a Vision Forward
Organization Name: University of Pittsburgh, Program Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU)
Project Lead: Janice Pringle
4. Project Title: Short-Term and Long-Term Impacts of Felony Prosecution
Organization Name: Regents University of California Los Angeles (CPL/UCLA)
Project Lead: Alex Bell
5. Project Title: Investigating and Addressing Racial & Ethnic Disparity Across Prosecutorial Decision-Making Points: A Multi-Site Analysis
Organization Name: University of Maryland (UMD)
Project Lead: Brian D. Johnson, Miranda Galvin and Allison Redlich
6. Project Title: Local Prosecution Reform: Understanding the Role of Case Processing Decisions in Achieving Reform
Organization Name: University of California — Irvine
Project Lead: Jon Gould
7. Project Title: Diversion in Westchester and Jefferson Counties: A Policy Study of Process and Outcomes
Organization Name: Research Triangle Institute (RTI)
Project Lead: Matthew DeMichele
8. Project Title: Cost-Benefit Analysis of Prosecutor Diversions
Organization Name: Texas Southern University Foundation (TSU)
Project Lead: Howard Henderson and Carrie Pettus-Davis
9. Project Title: How the Shift Toward Presumptive Non-prosecution of Misdemeanor Offenses Affects Racial Disparities in Current and Future Penal System Outcomes in Two Jurisdictions
Organization Name: President and Fellows of Harvard College
Project Lead: Sandra Susan Smith
10. Project Title: Partnering with Prosecutors to Reduce Racial Disproportionalities
Organization Name: University of California — Irvine
Project Lead: Jon Gould
11. Project Title: Promoting Racial Justice and Transparency in Indiana
Organization Name: Indiana University (IU)
Project Lead: Tri Keah Henry and Eric Grommon
12. Project Title: Examination of Prosecutors’ Decisions to Stop Prosecuting Low-Level Offenses
Organization Name: The Justice Management Institute (JMI)
Project Lead: Elaine Borakove
13. Project Title: Prosecutorial Discretion in Diversion: Evidence from Dallas County & the City of Los Angeles
Organization Name: Claremont Graduate University
Project Lead: Greg DeAngelo
14. Project Title: Expanding Juvenile Diversion Eligibility to Reduce Disparities and Justice Involvement: Examining Impacts of Prosecutorial Discretion via Diversion Policy Changes in Philadelphia and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania
Organization Name: Drexel University
Project Leads: Naomi E. Goldstein and Amanda NeMoyer
About Arnold Ventures
Arnold Ventures is a philanthropy dedicated to tackling some of the most pressing problems in the United States. Driven by a mission to maximize opportunity and minimize injustice, it invests in sustainable change, building it from the ground up based on research, deep thinking, and a strong foundation of evidence. Arnold Ventures is headquartered in Houston, with offices in Washington, D.C., and New York City. For media inquiries, contact David Hebert at email@example.com.