February 7, 2020

8:30 am - 5:00 am , Pacific Time

Progressive Prosecution and the Carceral State


This Symposium, taking place on February 7, 2020, is being hosted by the UC Hastings Journal of Crime and Punishment, the UC Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal and Professors Hadar Aviram, Kate Bloch, Rory Little, and Mai Linh Spencer. Our symposium will revolve around a discussion on current pioneering efforts to reform prosecutorial practices and the role that this “progressive prosecution” approach plays within the larger movement around “criminal justice reform.” We seek to interrogate both the prospects and limits of these initiatives. 

Prosecutors play a crucial role in determining how and when someone enters and remains within the criminal justice system. They are key decision makers at almost every level of a defendant’s case. They hold the power to issue charges, dismiss cases, recommend jail or prison time as part of the plea-bargaining process as well as to seek alternatives to incarceration. Decades of “tough on crime” policies have led to what scholars and commentators describe as unethical and egregious levels of mass incarceration. “Progressive Prosecution” has emerged as one of the ways in which to address this issue of mass incarceration and reform the prosecutorial policies that have contributed to this result. Proponents of “progressive prosecution” commonly aim to harness prosecutorial power to reduce levels of incarceration generally and more specifically to reduce the racial and class inequalities of the criminal justice system by encouraging the increased use of prosecutorial discretion and limiting the number of people processed by the criminal courts. 

Moreover, “progressive prosecutors” often seek to mitigate strained relationships between communities impacted by police misconduct, mass incarceration, and a plea driven criminal justice system. Additionally, these advocates imagine a way forward for a reformed prosecutorial culture that is less punitive. Some may view this approach as inherently antithetical to roles prosecutors have often played in recent decades. Perspectives on this changing nature of prosecution and its potential impact serve as a focal point of the proposed symposium.

UC Hastings prides itself on the substantial contingent of students who pursue careers in District Attorney and Public Defender offices. As progressive prosecution is at the forefront of approaches to criminal justice reform, we believe the UC Hastings community is the perfect venue for a deeper scholarly inquiry into this legal and institutional shift.

The Symposium structure noted below lists potential speakers for proposed keynotes and panels. These choices are subject to modification as the planning for the symposium progresses. We anticipate 180 people to be in attendance, including 100 students, 20 staff and faculty members, 30 practitioners and 30 members of the general public.

Symposium Structure

8:30 – 9:00am Breakfast / Check-in 

9:00 – 9:10am Welcome and Introductions 

● EIC and Symposium Editor

● Dean David Faigman 

9:10 – 9:45am Introduction by Professor Hadar Aviram 

Keynote Address: “The Roots of Progressive Prosecution” 

10:00 – 11:30am Panel 1: Progressive Prosecutors Through the Lens of Practitioners

Moderator: Professor Kate Bloch

● McGregor Scott, US Attorney Eastern District of CA 

● Chesa Boudin, Deputy Public Defender and SF DA Candidate 

11:30 – 1:00pm Lunch and Keynote Speaker

1:15 – 2:30pm Panel 2: Prospects and Limitations of Progressive Prosecution

Moderator: Professor Melissa Murray (NYU Law) and Professor Spencer

● Angela J. Davis, American U. Law 

● Issa Kohler-Hausmann (Yale Law) 

● Mona Lynch 

2:30 – 2:45pm Water/ Coffee Break 

3:00 – 4:30pm Panel 3: Politics and Money of Progressive Prosecution

Moderator: Professor Hadar Aviram 

● Udi Offer, Smart Justice (ACLU) 

● Kay Levine 

4:30 – 5:00pm Closing Remarks: From the Perspective of those Impacted 

5:00pm Reception