A group of prosecutors will soon see firsthand, many for the first time, what conditions are really like inside correctional facilities. In an initiative launched on Monday (November 25), advocacy group Fair and Just Prosecution (FJP) convinced 39 of the nation’s “most progressive district attorneys” to commit to visiting prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers.

Miriam Krinsky, executive director of FJP, told The Washington Post that prosecutors are the “front door” of the justice system and therefore have an obligation to “witness the decay and overcrowding plaguing the nation’s correctional facilities.” She continued, “No prosecutor should be putting people in places they haven’t seen or walked through.” It’s Krinsky’s hope that the visits will broaden prosecutors’ perspectives and inform their “decisions on sentencing, bail and alternatives to incarceration.”

The participating prosecutors signed a three-part pledge to:

  • Personally visit the facilities—the local prison, jail and juvenile facilities—in which individuals prosecuted by our office are detained or sentenced to terms of incarceration;
  • Require line prosecutors in our office to visit the local prison, jail and juvenile facility in which individuals that they prosecute are detained or sentenced to terms of incarceration; and
  • Make these expectations part of the ongoing mandatory training and job expectations for line prosecutors in our offices, and underscore that this is an integral of the performance of their duties.

Stephanie Morales, Portsmouth (Virginia) Commonwealth’s attorney is one of the signees. She told The Post that visiting correctional facilities has changed how her team operates. “We had no idea how much of the impact was going to be on us,” Morales told The Post. “We got to see people as family members and community members first. We usually encounter people at their lowest point coming into the criminal justice system.”

Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg of King County, Washington, another signatory, stressed to The Post that the value of people in his position visiting correctional facilities can’t be underestimated. He said he’s been doing it for a decade. “It quickly injects humanity into our work. When you sit and listen to their stories, most of them had difficult and traumatic upbringings,” he said. “More people need to see what their local prison looks and need to go home and think about whether they could do a month there, let alone the 20 years the criminal justice system talks about.”