39 Elected Prosecutors Say Attorney General William Barr's Criminal Justice Vision Unfairly Punishes Minorities, Poor People

Thirty-nine elected prosecutors released a joint statement Thursday criticizing Attorney General William Barr for unfairly punishing minorities and poor people, following a speech he made on Monday.

The statement was released by the organization Fair and Just Prosecution, which promotes equality and fairness in the criminal justice system. The 39 prosecutors who signed the statement come from a variety of states.

In the letter, the attorneys spoke against "fear-driven" actions that target people of color and poor people and imprison them.

"We will not adhere to policies that failed to make our communities safe and punished poverty, mental illness or addiction—policies that filled prison beds and made our country an international outlier in our rate of incarceration," the statement said.

"We will not cater to the powerful and wealthy while plundering the poor and communities of color," it continued. "We will continue to implement solutions that are proven, focus our resources on solving serious crimes, and work to reduce our nation's bloated incarceration system. We will uphold the rule of law, and we will apply it fairly."

The organization criticized Barr for remarks he made during a speech to the National Sheriffs' Association on Monday.

"We are meticulously reviewing the actions of certain district attorneys who have adopted policies of charging foreign nationals with lesser offenses for the express purpose of avoiding the federal immigration consequences of those nationals' criminal conduct," the attorney general told the association's Legislative and Technology Conference.

"In pursuing their personal ambitions and misguided notions of equal justice, these district attorneys are systematically violating the rule of law and may even be unlawfully discriminating against American citizens," Barr said.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced plans to revise the sentencing for Trump associate Roger Stone, who was found guilty of obstructing Congress, lying to Congress and witness tampering. The original sentencing recommendation from the case's federal prosecutors was seven to nine years.

Some former Justice Department officials said the change in the Stone case was an example of President Donald Trump and Barr manipulating federal law for their own political interest, according to The Washington Post. On Thursday, Barr told ABC News that Trump "has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case."

"Critics such as Attorney General William Barr seek to bring us back to a time when crime was high, success was measured by how harsh the punishment was, and a fear-driven narrative prevailed," the prosecutors' statement said.

"This is the same Attorney General who in the span of 24 hours attacked reform-minded, elected District Attorneys for being soft on crime, while demanding his own federal prosecutors lighten the punishment for an ally of his boss," the statement continued. "He touts the importance of the rule of law, yet undermines it in the same breath."

The statement also called for resources to be refocused from testing for THC to processing untested sexual assault kits, and from building new jails and prisons to investing in education. The prosecutors noted that they work with communities to increase mental health services, build affordable housing and provide safe injection sites to counter accidental drug overdoses.

"We will not return to the days where the powerful and the corrupt walk free while the poor languish in a jail cell—despite attempts by some to bring us there," the statement concluded. "We will not deepen the divide and distrust between law enforcement and communities of color. The voters and our communities demanded better, and so do we."

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Attorney General William Barr speaks during a January 13 press conference on the shooting at a Pensacola, Florida, naval base in December 2019. Win McNamee/Getty