Today’s Journal Sentinel offers what purports to be the first review of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s deferred prosecution program. The first three paragraphs provide a good sense of the content and tone of the report:
Milwaukee County’s deferred prosecution program has grown into a major initiative that allows hundreds of defendants each year to walk away from criminal charges with little or no consequences in exchange for getting treatment and staying out of trouble.
Some defendants awarded breaks under the program committed serious crimes, including several that prosecutors admit violate their own policy, a Journal Sentinel analysis of three years of court records has found.
The review of cases filed from 2007 to 2009 found dozens of examples that raise questions about how the county’s deferred prosecution program is being implemented.
The report then discusses a handful of cases in detail. None can readily be characterized as a success story, and readers may be left with a sense that the program routinely results in the dismissal of charges against violent offenders, pedophiles, and big-time drug dealers. (A short related piece appearing on the third page of the DPA coverage does discuss an additional case that prosecutors apparently touted as a success story, although it, too, involves lurid facts — a sexual assault of a juvenile — that may leave few readers feeling reassured about the type of defendants who benefit from the program.)
Of course, recounting success stories is unlikely to sell many newspapers. Still, I’m disappointed that a review of an important criminal justice initiative seems based on little more than a few anecdotes that were apparently selected for their shock value.