American Prosecutor Says Criminal Justice System Should Change Lives Instead of Ruining Them

"How many of you shoplifted, tried an illegal drug or got into a physical fight - yes even with a sibling?


"How many of you think you’re a danger to society and think you should be defined by those actions of youthful indiscretion?”

This is how Adam Foss, an assistant District Attorney in Massachusetts begins his recent TED talk on improving the criminal justice system. What he suggests, in a nutshell, is that Prosecutors need to get away from using jail and focus instead on transforming the lives of the convicted - to try and address the things that brought that person into the criminal justice system.

"For the most part, prosecutors step onto the job with little appreciation of the impact of our decisions, regardless of our intent. Despite our broad discretion, we learn to avoid risk at all cost, rendering our discretion basically useless. History has conditioned us to believe that somehow, the criminal justice system brings about accountability and improves public safety, despite evidence to the contrary." 

Foss' approach to prosecution was likely influenced by the fact that he himself, was charged with trafficking a large quantity of drugs as a teen. He says this experience taught him "the power of opportunity as opposed to the wrath of the criminal justice system."