A professor in the School of Law at UNC is close to completing a study on all of the country's district attorneys and their influence on state criminal justice policy.
Law professor Carissa Byrne Hessick launched the Prosecutors and Politics Project in 2018. She received some funding from The Vital Projects Fund and the Charles Koch Foundation.
“The goal of the Prosecutors and Politics Project is to find out more about the role of politics in the criminal justice system generally, and for prosecutors specifically,” Hessick said.
Hessick said researchers first determined how many elected prosecutors exist in the country and created a database containing their information. The second part of the project will focus on tracking election cycles and statistics, including campaign donations.
“When it comes to the criminal justice system, prosecutors wield a lot of power,” Hessick said.
The public doesn't know much about prosecutor elections, Hessick said, and there is little to no existing research about them.
Campaign finance regulations are not as strict in district attorney elections as in a presidential election, Matthew Baruch, a third-year law student at UNC who worked on the project last year, said. Hessick’s database will eventually be able to track potential campaign finance violations at the district attorney and prosecutor level.
“District attorneys are individual county attorneys, so if they’re receiving money from someone out of a different county or especially out of a different state, there are definitely alarm bells that went off,” Baruch said.
Hessick sought outside funding to support this project. She received initial funding from The Vital Projects Fund, a charitable foundation that values research on human rights and criminal justice reform.