CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Wright & Levine on Career Motivations of State Prosecutors

Ronald F. Wright and Kay Levine (Wake Forest University - School of Law and Emory University School of Law) have posted Career Motivations of State Prosecutors (THE GEORGE WASHINGTON LAW REVIEW [Vol. 86:1667]) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Because state prosecutors in the United States typically work in local offices, reformers often surmise that greater coordination within and among those offices will promote sound prosecution practices across the board. Real transformation, however, requires commitment not only from elected chief prosecutors but also from line prosecutors—the attorneys who handle the daily caseloads of the office. When these individuals’ amenability to reform goals and sense of professional identity is at odds with the leadership, the success and sustainability of reforms may be at risk.

To better understand this group of criminal justice professionals and their power to influence system reforms, we set out to learn what motivates state prosecutors to do their work.
Using original interview data from more than 260 prosecutors in nine different offices, we identify four principal career motivations for working state prosecutors: (1) reinforcing one’s core absolutist identity, (2) gaining trial skills, (3) performing a valuable public service, and (4) sustaining a work-life balance. However, only two of these motivations—fulfilling one’s core identity and serving the public—are acceptable for applicants to voice in the hiring context, even in offices that employ a significant number of former defense attorneys. From this finding we offer a cautionary tale to job applicants as well as to office leaders, particularly chief prosecutors who want to reform office practices and to make those changes stick.

| Permalink


Post a comment