Prosecutors and Politics Project Releases New Report on Prosecutor Lobbying in the U.S.

June 3, 2021

UNC School of Law’s Prosecutors and Politics Project released a report today analyzing prosecutor lobbying in all 50 states. “Prosecutor Lobbying in the States, 2015-2018,” the result of a multi-year study, examines all criminal-justice-related bills introduced between the years 2015 through 2018.

Carissa Byrne Hessick
Carissa Byrne Hessick

“This report provides a comprehensive picture not only of prosecutors’ lobbying efforts, but also the major legislative issues confronting each state,” says Carissa Byrne Hessick, director of the Prosecutors and Politics Project and Anne Shea Ransdell and William Garland “Buck” Ransdell, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law. “Criminal justice scholars and reform advocates have long suspected that prosecutors play an important role in shaping the law and that they lobby for harsher laws. This report not only confirms, but also quantifies that conventional wisdom. At the same time, it reveals that prosecutors are also active and often successful lobbyists when it comes to criminal justice reform bills.”

The study reveals five major findings:

  • Prosecutors are heavily involved in the passage of criminal law and criminal justice legislation. 
  • Prosecutors are more likely to support legislation that expands criminal law and criminal punishment than legislation that decreases the scope of criminal law or criminal punishment.
  • When prosecutors lobby in favor of legislation, it is much more likely to pass.
  • Although they are more likely to support traditional law-and-order legislation, prosecutors are more successful when they support criminal justice reform legislation.  When prosecutors lobby in favor of bills that seek to narrow the scope of criminal law and bills that seek to decrease punishment, their success rate for these bills is 15% higher than their success rate when they support bills that increase the scope of criminal law or increase punishment
  • Prosecutors are less successful at having legislation that they oppose fail than they are at having legislation that they support pass. The one notable exception to that trend is bills that seek to decrease the scope of criminal laws. When prosecutors oppose those bills, they are highly unlikely to pass.

The report, which was funded in part by a generous gift from the Charles Koch Foundation, includes statistics and analysis of national trends, as well as detailed information about prosecutor lobbying efforts in each state.

The Prosecutors and Politics Project is a research initiative at the University of North Carolina School of Law. Founded in 2018, the project studies the role of prosecutors in the criminal justice system, focusing on both the political aspects of their selection and their political power.