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Law scholar presents unique approach to prison reform

Law scholar presents unique approach to prison reform

Photo courtesy of American University: Angela Davis, professor of law at American University, delivered a talk to students at Hofstra’s Maurice A. Deane School of Law addressing prison reform and prosecution.

Like many Americans, Angela Davis, a professor of law at American University’s Washington School of Law, believes that the criminal justice system is in crisis. However, her solution to the problem of mass incarceration is a unique one: better prosecutors.

Davis spoke to students at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law on Wednesday, April 3, delivering the Howard Lichtenstein Distinguished Professorship in Legal Ethics lecture. Davis’ talk, “Prosecutorial Ethics in Current Times,” was sponsored by the Monroe H. Freedman Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics.

Davis explained that given the fact that the only evidence prosecutors need to bring charges against arrested individuals is probable cause, prosecutors tend to pile on multiple charges with mandatory minimum sentences in the hope that the defendants choose to plead guilty to one of the charges instead of insisting on a jury.

“Every person who commits a crime does not need to be prosecuted,” Davis said. She believes that, as ministers of justice, prosecutors are morally and ethically obligated to check the urge to charge as many potential convicts as possible with crimes. “There are ways to hold people accountable other than putting them in a cage.”

One of those ways is through diversion programs, such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation and behavioral therapy. Diversion programs are currently only offered to first-time, low-level offenders as an alternative to incarceration. Davis wants to remedy prison overcrowding by extending those provisions to include people found guilty of nonviolent felonies, no matter how many times they have been indicted in the past.

Davis also believes in advocating for clemency among prosecutors. She used Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner; embattled State Attorney Kim Foxx from Cook County, Illinois; and Scott Colom, the district attorney for Mississippi’s 16th District, as examples of progressive prosecutors that law students should look up to.

“Laws don’t implement themselves,” Davis reminded the future lawyers.

Prosecuting defendants with clemency and a passion for justice, though difficult, is a challenge that the students at Hofstra Law are ready to take on.

Dorothy Spingarn, a first-year law student with a background in anthropology, was intrigued by Davis’ talk. Spingarn expressed interest in criminal law and said that Davis’ lecture made her consider learning more about ethics in the criminal justice system.

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