Project Director, Project on Data-Driven Prosecutorial Reform

Location: New York, NY

Department: Programs and Strategy

Type: Full Time

Min. Experience: Executive

The Vera Institute of Justice, founded in 1961, is an independent, non-partisan, nonprofit organization that combines expertise in research, technical assistance, and demonstration projects to build and improve justice systems that ensure fairness, promote safety, and strengthen communities. We work with others who share our vision to tackle the most pressing injustices of our day—from mass deportations, racial disparities, and the loss of public trust in law enforcement to the unmet needs of the vulnerable, the marginalized, and those harmed by crime and violence. Vera has offices in New York City, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. Its projects and reform initiatives, typically conducted in partnership with local, state, or national officials, are located across the United States and around the world. Vera is an equal opportunity employer with a commitment to diversity in the workplace.

Vera is hiring the inaugural director of a path-breaking new project to assist reform-minded prosecutors implement policies and practices in their offices that reduce incarceration, increase racial justice and fairness, and promote legitimacy and community accountability.  It builds on close to a decade of work at Vera focused on enabling prosecutors to be agents of change and racial justice.

One of the more promising fronts in the effort to advance smart justice in America manifested itself in the 2016 election. Voters pulled the lever for criminal justice reform by electing prosecutors committed to delivering it. Many are deeply invested in these prosecutors’ success in the job, and efforts are underway to support the election of similar candidates in 2018. Yet, newly elected reform-minded prosecutors have a daunting task on their hands. How do they meaningfully deliver on ambitions and campaign promises to reduce over-incarceration? How can they know that the reforms they champion will be the right ones and have more than a marginal or symbolic impact? How can they show results and demonstrate accountability to the communities that elected them, the media that covers them and an increasingly engaged public?

The truth is they cannot reliably do any of these things without innovating, without using new techniques and without calling upon data to inform decision- and policy-making. Yet interrogating business as usual, pursuing data-driven decision-making, recognizing the prosecutor’s office as a system actor and driving cultural change are not native practices in most offices. This work is difficult, and the imperative to help new prosecutors be accountable and deliver concrete change, critical. Vera is seeking a highly effective leader to meet this imperative. 

The Project

Vera’s project on Data-Driven Prosecutorial Reform is primarily focused on helping reform minded – mostly newly elected – prosecutors in multiple jurisdictions transform their ambitions and campaign promises into concrete, data-informed and implementable policies. Policies that limit incarceration, strengthen racial fairness and equal justice, which in turn, increase legitimacy and trust. Vera will assess office practices and help prosecutors identify changes that are rooted in data and evidence. Vera will help them make change spurred by a commitment to innovation, informed by values and that contribute to a shift in prosecutorial culture.  Second, the project will document the work of the prosecutors with whom it partners – in the form of case studies, briefs blogs and articles – in order to build a literature and reference points for the field, peers, media and other stakeholders. Third, the project will work closely and in collaboration with other organizations committed to encouraging greater justice, fairness, transparency and legitimacy in prosecution.

Because this undertaking is without blueprint, its first phase requires a degree of entrepreneurialism and significant learning. Vera, which already has put together a small team working in pilot jurisdictions, will focus in 2018 on those efforts (plus two or three places) to refine a mode of engagement, a more nuanced understanding of data barriers and limitations, analytical capacities on the prosecutor teams, leadership needs, and the quantum and quality of information needed to drive decision-making.  Our working presumption is for a nine to twelve month engagement – including site visits, working sessions, research and analysis, implementation assistance and coaching – with each jurisdiction. Vera’s expectation will be to work at a greater level of scale in 2019 and beyond, anticipating the November 2018 elections ushering in a new class of reform prosecutors.

Responsibilities

  • Manage and lead engagements with chief prosecutors to identify, support implementation of, and assess outcomes of reform initiatives in their offices;
  • Shape, refine and eventually codify Vera’s model of engagement with prosecutor leaders and offices – length of engagement, sequencing of activities, expectations and phases;
  • Document and manage the documentation of project stories, lessons and findings for public consumption, as well as internal materials; 
  • Manage and coordinate a team with diverse talents and expertise, some of whom will be direct reports, and some of whom will be from different units within Vera;
  • Assist with fund-raising; and
  • Write, speak about, talk about and represent the project at conferences, with colleague organizations and in the media; serve as key ambassador and expert for Vera on the topic of the importance of prosecutorial reform, and challenges and successes in achieving it.

Organizationally, this project sits within the purview of Vera’s Director of Programs and Strategy, and ultimately the director will report to her. However, in the first phase (likely through the end of 2018) the director will report directly to Vera’s President, who will play a lead role in incubating and developing the initiative. At the outset, the director will work with the small team currently delivering assistance in pilot jurisdictions. Eventually s/he will lead and manage an interdisciplinary team, composed of at least one policy/program associate and research staff who are expert in interviewing, observation, focus groups and management and analysis of large administrative criminal justice datasets. As the project grows over 2018, the team will expand.

Qualifications

The successful candidate will bring the following skills and experience:

  • You need to know the business of prosecution. You don’t have to have been a prosecutor, but it is an absolute necessity that you are familiar with it up close – to know how cases flow, to understand general office organization, to know where differences can be made – and able to think critically about it.  It is our rebuttable presumption that a JD is required in order to credibly lead this project.
  • You need to be deeply committed to the missions of racial justice and ending mass incarceration. You need to be knowledgeable about and fluent in discussing and advancing both, and their relationship to community/public safety. And you must know why the role of the prosecutor is so essential to both, and better be ready to talk with people who are less fluent.
  • You can handle yourself and have range with all sorts of human beings in all sorts of environments. This job will require you to talk about hard things and tough choices one-on-one with an elected prosecutor or her executive team; it will require you to listen and be curious; to draw out and engage line prosecutors; to present to the media; to explore data with researchers; and to explain the importance of this work to leaders in philanthropy.
  • You have to be creative and optimistic – and pardon the cliché, but you have to think outside the box and be glass is half-full. There is no blueprint or user-guide for this work. It is on the cutting edge and certainly in the first phase, there will be lots of learning, a few half-starts and course-corrections and mistakes. All that is okay with us, but it has to be with you. If it’s not, this is not the job for you.
  • You must be comfortable with, curious about and unafraid of data. You don’t have to know how to do regressions or query big datasets, but you have to work with people who do. And you have to translate its power to those who are less comfortable and more afraid.
  • You’ve got to have as much EQ as you have IQ. If not more. This job will require you to manage up, down and sideways in Vera, to work with ambitious elected DAs who want to do everything yesterday and operate in a challenging political context, to move that recalcitrant veteran ADA from his skepticism, to shape expectations of eager supporters/funders or our advocacy allies, and to work collaboratively with colleague institutions in the field.
  • You need to have a good relationship with your carry-on roller bag and be excited about travel and learning about new places. This job will require you to do face-to-face work in multiple jurisdictions across the country and present at conferences. It is not inconceivable that you may have four 2-3 day trips in a heavy month.  We believe in Skype and conference calls, but nothing replaces face-to-face interaction for necessary rapport-building.

There is a strong preference for this position to be based at Vera’s New York City Office, especially given it is in a critical early phase. However, Vera also has offices in Washington DC, Los Angeles and New Orleans and we do not rule out a highly-qualified candidate operating from one of them.

Salary

Based on experience, and including excellent benefits, Vera believes in compensating its staff members at or above market.

 Applications will be considered on a rolling basis until position is filled. If necessary, materials may be emailed or mailed or faxed to:

 

ATTN: Prosecution Reform Director Recruitment

Vera Institute of Justice

233 Broadway, 12th Floor

New York, NY 10279

Fax: (212) 941-9407

Please use only one method (online, mail or fax) of submission.

No phone calls, please. Only applicants selected for interviews will be contacted.

 

Vera is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.  All qualified applicants will be considered for employment without unlawful discrimination based on race, color, creed, national origin, sex, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, military status, prior record of arrest or conviction, citizenship status, current employment status, or caregiver status.

Vera works to advance justice, particularly racial justice, in an increasingly multicultural country and globally connected world. We value diverse experiences, including with regard to educational background and justice system contact, and depend on a diverse staff to carry out our mission.

For more information about Vera’s work, please visit www.vera.org.

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