Progressive prosecutors scored big wins in 2020 elections, boosting a nationwide trend
Caren Morrison, Georgia State University
Despite the broad political polarization in the United States, the 2020 election confirmed a clear movement across both red and blue America: the gains made by reform-minded prosecutors.
Running on progressive platforms that include ending mass incarceration and addressing police misconduct, candidates defeated traditional “law-and-order” prosecutors across the country.
Elected prosecutors — often called state’s attorneys or district attorneys — represent the people of a particular county in their criminal cases. Their offices work with law enforcement to investigate and try cases, determine which crimes should be prioritized and decide how punitive to be.
After decades of incumbent prosecutors winning reelection based on their high conviction rates or the long sentences they achieved, advocates for criminal justice reform began making inroads into their territory a few years ago. They did so mainly by drawing attention to local races and funding progressive challengers.
Birth of a movement
During her 2016 run for state’s attorney for Cook County, Illinois, Kim Foxx vowed to bring more accountability to police shootings and reduce prosecutions for nonviolent crimes.
She won, becoming the first Black woman to serve as state’s attorney in Chicago. It was also the first high-profile sign that this progressive prosecutorial approach was working.
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