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Group pushes for task force to reimagine how local prosecutors can transform the criminal justice system

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A group of more than 100 law enforcement leaders are calling on the Biden administration to establish a task force to reimagine how local prosecutors approach their work to make the justice system less punitive and more equitable.

They envision a wide-ranging effort, akin to the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing that was set up by President ­Barack Obama to rethink policing after an officer fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

The prosecutors, police chiefs, sheriffs and former Justice Department officials hope the task force will build on the work of dozens of prosecutors elected in recent years on liberal promises to do away with cash bail, drop the death penalty and seek treatment and other alternatives to incarceration.

The group calling for the task force argues that local prosecutors are some of the most powerful actors in the justice system, but relatively little national attention has been paid to creating a blueprint for how they do their work.

At the same time, many liberal prosecutors are facing pushback from law enforcement unions and conservative groups who think their approach leaves communities less safe. The group hopes the task force would act as a wider catalyst for the changes sought by liberal prosecutors on the local level. The effort has been organized by the group Fair and Just Prosecution.

The group wants the task force to include defense attorneys, crime victims, law enforcement leaders, civil rights advocates, researchers, Justice Department representatives and others.

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The group says the effort would help President Biden fulfill a campaign promise to create a task force to examine how prosecutors make decisions on whom to charge and what charges to pursue that was a plank of his criminal justice platform.

John J. Choi, the Ramsey County attorney in Minnesota, is supporting the effort, saying it is an opportunity to make connections across jurisdictions to further criminal justice reform efforts.

“I think there’s a lot of innovative and forward-thinking initiatives that are being taken at the local level,” Choi said, “but a lot of that is happening in a siloed fashion from community to community.”

The group calling for the task force includes former deputy assistant attorney general Roy L. Austin, Boston prosecutor and Biden nominee for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts Rachael Rollins, and former New Orleans police superintendent Ronal Serpas.

Most Washington-area prosecutors have endorsed the effort, including Karl A. Racine in D.C., Bryan Porter in Alexandria, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti in Arlington, Steve Descano in Fairfax, Buta Biberaj in Loudoun, Aisha Braveboy in Prince George’s County and Marilyn Mosby in Baltimore.

Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the White House, said in a statement that Biden remains committed to his promise to pursuing changes to prosecutors’ offices.

“As part of his criminal justice agenda during the campaign, the President proposed an independent task force on prosecutorial discretion for the purpose of making recommendations about how to eliminate discrimination and other challenges,” Bates said. “He remains committed to that proposal.”

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