Days after Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich sent a letter to persuade a repeat offender to follow the law, the Recidivist Prosecutor Project wrote a satirical letter asking Weirich to do the same.
The letters appear side by side in a photo tweeted last week by the director of Harvard University’s Fair Punishment Center, which advocates for accountability in the criminal justice system.
The wording of the letters is nearly identical. Both begin by saying that their offices have been working to find those who commit the most crime/illegal conduct.
“You are one of those people and we are asking you to stop,” the letters say. “STOP breaking the law and get the help you need. We have tried everything available and it is not working.” (Emphasis theirs.)
And while the Recidivist Prosecutor Project, which has no online presence, appears to be fake, the charges against the district attorney as outlined in the letter are true.
“Since 2010, your office has had more findings of misconduct and more reversals than any other District Attorney General office in the state of Tennessee,” the June 9 letter reads.
“You personally committed at least 3 instances of misconduct. You have been reprimanded by the Tennessee Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. You were reprimanded by the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility and you still appear to be committing misconduct.” (Emphasis theirs.)
The letter from Weirich says that the offender has been arrested 17 times for shoplifting since 2016 and served a 20-year prison sentence in Mississippi.
“You have been put on probation and failed,” the June 5 letter says. “You have been incarcerated and gone right back to breaking the law.”
Both letters end with dire warnings.
Warns the Recidivist Prosecutor Project: “If you don’t stop, please know that the lawyers in this office will be notified when you are caught and you will be subjected to a bar complaint or a federal pattern and practice lawsuit. The choice is yours.”
Warns Weirich: “If you don’t stop, please know that prosecutors in this office will be notified when you are arrested and you will get the maximum time allowed under law. The choice is yours.” (Sentencing is at the discretion of the judge, not the prosecutor, unless the defendant agrees to a plea deal.)
Neither Weirich nor Fair Punishment Center’s director Rob Smith were immediately available for comment.
However Just City’s executive director Josh Spickler found at least one ray of hope: Weirich’s letter points the offender to the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Re-entry for help.
“It’s certainly a positive development that we’re focusing on resources available to people other than incarceration or supervision,” Spickler said.
While Spickler doesn’t know the offender who received the letter (the name is blocked out in the photo), he suspects that anyone arrested 17 times for shoplifting in 18 months has problems that more jail time won’t solve.
“We have to provide opportunity to people who are struggling against typically more than one of the following: multigenerational poverty, racism, a poor education system, mental illness, childhood trauma and substance abuse,” he said.
“We default to prosecution and a criminal justice solution to what are largely social problems.”
Tennessee has one of the fastest growing prison populations in the country, and Shelby County is the chief driver of that growth.
“This idea that maximum punishment deters crimes is a complete fallacy,” Spickler said.
“Enhancements like the one mentioned in this letter are not deterrents. They do not work to deter future crime, but it’s the tool we fall back on Shelby County.
“We’ve really got to refocus our investments and put them on the front end.”
Where do we go from here?
Read more about Weirich’s most highly publicized reprimand in the Noura Jackson case.
Learn more about prosecutorial misconduct in this Huffington Post article, “The Untouchables: America’s Misbehaving Prosecutors, And The System That Protects Them” by Radley Balko.
Read The Atlantic’s article “Most States Elect No Black Prosecutors” by David A. Graham.
Check out the Reflective Democracy Project’s report “Who Prosecutes in America”. Among the findings: 95 percent of elected prosecutors are white.
Follow these folks on Twitter: Just City Memphis, Fair Punishment Project, and Who Leads Us?, a project of the Reflective Democracy Project.
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