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Crime is on the ballot – and voters are choosing whether prosecutors with reform agendas are the ones who can best bring law, order and justice

Different approaches to justice are on the ballot in November 2022 in some public prosecutor and Congressional elections around the country, revealing a deep divide about how differently Americans feel about crime and its consequences.

Many Republican Congressional and prosecutor candidates are focusing their electoral messages on crime, accusing Democrats of being “dangerously liberal”, amid a seeming rise of crime in some places.

They are also saying that policies backed by Democrats like bail reform threaten public safety. Bail reform allows people who have been charged with a misdemeanor or a nonviolent felony to remain free pending the outcome of their cases, avoiding the scenario where people are held in jail because they are too poor to pay even modest amounts of bail.

The Republican message likely resonates with some voters.

An October 2022 Politico poll showed that voters rank crime as a top area of concern, trailing only the economy and abortion.

Democrats, meanwhile, have responded by supporting gun safety proposals and pointing to House of Representative bills that they supported and passed in September 2022, giving more money to local police departments. In other cases, Democrat candidates have largely avoided the topic of crime altogether, and instead have kept their focus on other key issues like abortion.

Against this backdrop, some local prosecutors running for election are arguing that public safety and new ways of thinking about incarceration can go hand in hand.

As a scholar who writes and teaches about criminal justice and wrongful convictions, I know that top prosecutors have tremendous power when deciding how justice is meted out – what crimes to charge, which people to bring charges against, and how cases are prosecuted.

How they choose to wield that control has significant consequences for poor people, communities of color, victims of crimes and society at large.

Jose Garza, district attorney of Travis County, Texas, is one of the progressive prosecutors elected in recent years.
Spencer Selvidge for The Washington Post via Getty Images A new way of thinking about justice

Public prosecutors are government officials who are tasked with investigating and prosecuting crimes. They operate

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