“Justice for All*?” a new report from the Women Donors Network and the Center for Technology and Civic Life, revealed that 95 percent of America’s elected prosecutors are white.

Of the 2,437 elected prosecutors serving in jurisdictions around the country last summer when the survey was conducted, just 4 percent are men of color, only 1 percent are women of color, and white men account for fully 79 percent (while only accounting for 31 percent of the total population). And 60 percent of states have zero black elected prosecutors. The only state where white men make up less than half of the prosecutors is New Mexico. 

Whether they are called district attorneys or states attorneys general, elected prosecutors are the ones who decide when to pursue criminal charges, which charges to file, and if they will carry prison time. At a time when President Obama is commuting the too-harsh sentences of some nonviolent offenders and even staunchly partisan Congressmen are reaching across the aisle in the name of criminal justice system reform, these findings paint a stark picture.

“The tremendous power and discretion in the hands of prosecutors, combined with the concentration of those positions among one demographic group, virtually guarantees inequality in our criminal justice system,” Brenda Choresi Carter, director of the Women Donors Network’s Reflective Democracy campaign, said in a statement announcing the report. “In the context of such skewed numbers, when a white male prosecutor fails to secure an indictment in Ferguson and another sends a woman of color in Indiana to prison for 20 years for feticide, we have to ask serious questions about systemic bias.”

Illustration: Women Donors NetworkWhy prosecutor diversity matters.

And the report finds that this bias often goes unchecked, with 85 percent of state and local prosecutors running unopposed from year to year, contributing to the fact that black men are six times more likely to be jailed for a crime than their white counterparts, according to United Nations data

“Over the last 25 years, the most critical decision maker in the criminal justice system has become the prosecutor,” Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Network, said on a conference call held to announce the results of the survey. He referred to the way black prosecutor Marilyn Mosby handled the case of six officers who were involved in Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore to explain the importance of having a diverse group of prosecutors making life or death decisions. “In Baltimore, everybody believes it was the fact that you had a woman of color that shaped the process that led to an indictment there in ways that it didn’t in Ferguson and Staten Island. That’s part of what we have to consider when we think about the consequences of this lack of diversity.”