The Power of the Prosecutor
Gatekeepers of the Criminal Justice System
by Joan E. Jacoby and Edward C. Ratledge
January 2016, 227pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-4218-4
$65, £50, 57€, A90
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-4219-1
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Prosecutors have considerable power to influence the outcome of legal cases, thereby providing valuable flexibility to the entire U.S. criminal justice system.

In this book, readers will take a fascinating journey with local prosecutors as they seek to obtain reasonable and appropriate case dispositions while preventing abuse and misuse of the law and protecting the civil rights of their jurisdictions.

Prosecutors have a powerful and generally little-understood role in the criminal justice system. Their important powers include accepting or rejecting cases, making decisions about dismissing charges, or moving cases to disposition and recommending a sentence—all of which can critically affect not only individuals but society through their ability to shape our criminal justice system. The Power of the Prosecutor: Gatekeepers of the Criminal Justice System explores the real-world actions and outcomes of local prosecutors through five well-known cases, documenting the variety of pressures prosecutors face both within and outside their offices as they attempt to make the best decisions about crimes and defendants.

Written by individuals who have actively engaged prosecutors in practically every U.S. state over 30 years’ time, the book examines actual case profiles that enable readers to witness how prosecutors reach their behind-the-scenes decisions and grasp how the criminal justice system operates. The authors explain the variations in prosecution, including the effects of policies and priorities, action choices available, and the types of both internal and external relationships with other participants in the system: the police, the courts, the defense counsel, and the community they represent. Readers will come away with in-depth knowledge and understanding of the complexities and pressures faced by prosecutors in upholding justice under a wide variety of conditions.


  • Offers understandable explanations of why outcomes vary so widely in the criminal justice system—for example, why one prosecutor's office uses drug treatment programs for first-time offenders and another seeks jail time
  • Answers many of the questions raised in Ferguson, MO, and Staten Island, NY, about the role of prosecutors and their discretionary powers
  • Presents specific well-known cases to enhance readers' understanding of the intended/unintended consequences of our adversarial system of justice
  • Addresses in detail the complex relationships between various parts of the U.S. criminal justice system
Joan E. Jacoby is executive director of the Jefferson Institute for Justice Studies. She holds a bachelor's degree in sociology from Boston University and a master's degree in statistics from American University. Jacoby is the author of The American Prosecutor: A Search for Identity.

Edward C. Ratledge is the director of the Center for Applied Demography & Survey Research and associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration, University of Delaware. Ratledge holds bachelor's and master's degrees in economics from the University of Delaware. He is a coauthor of Greenwood's Handbook on Artificial Intelligence and Expert Systems in Law Enforcement.


"Jacoby and Ratledge offer valuable insights into the shadowy world in which U.S. prosecutors ply their craft. . . . Their assessments are worthy of consideration for those who seek to understand how the daily decisions made by thousands of prosecutors throughout the land breathe life into the criminal justice machinery. . . . Summing Up: Recommended. All academic levels/libraries."—Choice, January 4, 2017

"Jacoby and Ratledge provide an excellent and unbiased look at the world of prosecution as it varies throughout the United States and affects the quality of justice dispensed. They introduce readers to a world they may know little about and analyze the role the criminal justice system played in some real-life media-heavy cases that produced unanticipated results. The authors’ insight into new horizons for prosecution in the 21st century provides a basis for the development of new programs and expanded influence for prosecutors."—Peg Dorer, Director, North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys

"Jacoby and Ratledge have clearly identified, in this well-designed work, the single most powerful and important function of America’s prosecutors. It is a must-read, not only for criminal justice professionals, but also for any citizen who wants a clearer understanding of how our justice system really works."—Paul A. Logli, past president, National District Attorneys Association; past Winnebago County, IL, State’s Attorney

"A rare combination: fascinating case histories about some of the best-known prosecutors’ mistakes in criminal cases of our time and a keen, scholarly analysis of the prosecutor’s largely unknown role as manager of the criminal justice process. In this era of renewed concern about racism and criminal justice, Jacoby and Ratledge provide valuable insight into how prosecutors influence—for better and for worse—the legitimacy of the system."—William F. McDonald, Institute of Criminal Law and Procedure, Georgetown University

"I have known Jacoby and Ratledge for many years and am pleased that they have put their great experience on this topic into print. Their book demonstrates the importance of public knowledge about all aspects of a prosecutor's important role in achieving justice and equity."—Frank R. Crowe, Sheriff of Lothian and Borders at Edinburgh Scotland; formerly Procurator Fiscal at Kirkcaldy, Regional Procurator Fiscal at Hamilton, Scotland, and Deputy Crown Agent, Crown Office Edinburgh, Scotland

"For years, Jacoby and Ratledge have been retained to evaluate prosecutors and their policies and procedures, which has made them experts on prosecution. Their book, which offers a comprehensive examination of prosecution and the criminal justice system, offers valuable insight into the variety of issues confronting twenty-first-century prosecution."—Peter S. Gilchrist, III, Elected district attorney (1975–2011) for the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina
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