Prosecutor Caseload Report
There is debate over whether prosecutors need more staff and resources or if that will undermine justice reform efforts.
Prosecutors in large jurisdictions often handle heavy caseloads, leading to concerns about delays, oversights, and burnout, which can disproportionately impact minority groups. Prosecutors argue that increased staffing is needed to ensure constitutional protections, adequate time per case, and expansion of diversion programs. However, some justice reform advocates fear that giving prosecutors more resources will lead to more prosecutions, convictions, and incarceration, reversing recent reform gains, especially in minority communities. There has been very limited objective research on optimal staffing levels for prosecutors.
The report recommends prosecutors justify staffing needs based on multiple factors like caseloads, time spent per case, diversions, and community impact. Standards should align with equity and decarceration goals.
- Research on optimal prosecutor staffing levels is lacking.
- Overworked prosecutors may cause case delays, errors, and stress.
- More prosecutors could expand diversions if aligned with reform goals.
- Prosecutors should tie staffing requests to clear workload metrics and equity goals.
We concur with justice reformers who fear the ability of prosecutors to reverse the gains of the current decarceration movement, but the equivocal nature of this research demands that the nature and extent of prosecutor caseloads is in dire need of further inquiry. We also agree with Gershowitz and Killinger (2011) that prosecutors in large jurisdictions often have large caseloads, that there is harm caused by excessive caseloads, and that the best solution is to provide more resources to both the prosecutor and the public defender.
There is a relationship between prosecutor staffing, budgets and caseloads but there has been no evidence that more prosecutors equates to more disparities and unnecessary incarceration. We argue that the burden of proof lies with the prosecutor to make the case for their staffing needs and that this determination be based on several factors, not any one, by itself. This burden must be situated within the context of equity and decarceration. Understanding why there has yet to be an established standard for prosecutorial caseloads may be more a matter of politics and tradition than it is a function of science.