Prosecutors and Criminal Justice Reform: Research Partnership with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office

Research Team

Project Overview

Penn CJP researchers is partnering with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO) to conduct research on the role of prosecutor-driven policies in improving fairness and efficiency in the criminal justice system. The research team supports an overhaul of the DAO’s data infrastructure, conducts studies, and applies computational models to promote diversion and better services. Research includes randomized controlled trials focused on key case outcomes (pretrial release, size and use of bail, plea bargaining, and use of diversion) and defendant outcomes (successful completion of diversion, future victimization, future overdoses, eviction, and financial stability).

The project involves:

  • Embedding data scientists and post-doctoral scholars at the DAO.
  • Enhancing DAO data infrastructure to support the research process.
  • Developing benchmarks for assistant DA performance and examining what makes an effective prosecutor: can DA decision-making reduce sentences and recidivism for people in the justice system?
  • Studying the effect of monetary bail on economic outcomes including income, eviction, household bill payment, and credit scores.
  • Researching the use and effect of deferred prosecution and diversion. These strategies could avoid both convictions and the long-term effects of an arrest, and to help address defendant needs. However, there are also concerns that this may increase the scope of the justice system, and that these may be offered to defendants whose case may otherwise have been dismissed outright.
  • Analyzing trends in charging and plea-bargaining decisions in gun-related cases.
  • Evaluate whether machine learning tools can help prosecutors select better diversion options and prevent harms by identify risks to the defendant including overdose risk and gun violence victimization risk.