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Opinion | Can Prosecutors Be Taught to Avoid Jail Sentences?

“It’s great to have someone at the helm,” Ms. Eisen said. “But Krasner may be D.A. for four years. Career prosecutors are there for 20, 30 years. Something’s been missing from this movement.”

Adam Foss, a former assistant district attorney, is trying to fill the gap.

When Mr. Foss started as a prosecutor in Boston in 2008, he was trained in the law, but not the world he was stepping into. “I took a year of criminal law without hearing about poverty or racism,” he said. He gradually realized how a few days’ incarceration could change a life. “I knew that every young person I incarcerated was coming out worse on the other side,” he said. He began working with their families and community groups to find help for them instead.

“We allow really young lawyers, who are very privileged, to go into communities that are desperately disinvested in, and make decisions about them,” Mr. Foss said. In 2016, he founded Prosecutor Impact, a nonprofit organization, to help those prosecutors do better.

Zach Klein, the city attorney of Columbus, Ohio (his office handles misdemeanors and domestic violence), hosted a Prosecutor Impact workshop a year ago for his 150 staff members, paid for by local businesses and the Columbus Foundation.

Mr. Klein emphasized that diversion doesn’t excuse crime. “There are still bad people,” he said. “But others just need a leg up. How do you use the criminal justice system to provide that leg up?”

Well before the workshop, Mr. Klein had created an unusually comprehensive diversion program that asked people arrested for shoplifting 36 questions, such as, Are you eating? Do you have housing? “If food insecurity is the reason, then visiting a pantry is part of your diversion program,” he said. “To my knowledge, no one in the program has offended again.” He has recently expanded the list to cover other crimes.

Prosecutor Impact’s philosophies were not new to Mr. Klein’s prosecutors. “My staff generally was open-minded,” he said. “But people who become prosecutors generally have a certain mind-set: Uphold the law and put people in jail. There was a little bit of skepticism about why we were taking two weeks to do this training.”

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