Schoenfeld Op-Ed: Prosecutors Escape Blame in Criminal Sentencing

Schoenfeld Op-Ed: Prosecutors Escape Blame in Criminal Sentencing

Heather SchoenfeldAs someone who has spent the last decade studying criminal justice policy and incarceration growth in Florida, Northwestern University’s Heather Schoenfeld applauds legislators who support increasing public access to criminal justice data.

But to truly understand who goes to prison and for how long, we need to start looking at prosecutors’ charging decisions and plea bargaining practices, Schoenfeld argued in a recent opinion piece in the Tampa Bay Times.

The public and legislators should support more accountability in the criminal courts, but it must not stop with judges, said Schoenfeld, assistant professor of legal studies and education and social policy in the School of Education and Social Policy.

If legislators want to understand bias in sentencing, they must draft a bill that collects data on prosecutors' filing and plea bargaining practices,” Schoenfeld wrote. “If they want to control bias in prosecution, legislators should investigate the idea of plea bargaining guidelines, like are used to some extent in New Jersey and the federal system.

“Yet first they have to decide that racial disparities in criminal sentences are something they want to fix,” she wrote.

Shoenfeld, a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research, is a member of Northwestern University's Public Voices Thought Leadership Fellowship program, a partnership with the OpEd Project. 

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 3/24/17