How Do You Measure A ‘Good’ Prosecutor?

Justice Innovation Lab
3 min readMar 14, 2024
Daniel Davis leading a session at the JIL workshop for the Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office in Memphis, TN.

I have often described myself as a “good” prosecutor. I worked as a prosecutor for 15 years in New York, and during that time, I pushed back against the stereotype of prosecutors as only interested in trial wins and crushing jail sentences. I gave out second and even third changes. I always put restoration before punishment.

A little over a year ago, I joined Justice Innovation Lab, and JIL opened my eyes. It taught me to look at prosecution in a way I never had before. JIL showed me data. And, that data threw my central identity as a “good” prosecutor into sharp relief. What does it mean to be a good prosecutor? How do we measure that? What metrics do we choose?

These aren’t easy questions. Do we value diversions more than trial wins? Is it more important to exonerate the innocent or punish the guilty? How do we know when an imposed sentence is of the right type or length?

JIL recently conducted a four-day training for the Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office (SCDAG) in Memphis, TN. We brought these questions directly to the prosecutors in this office, and we put them front and center. Uniformly, this was a room of dedicated public servants — a group of committed prosecutors who all, like me, believe that they are “good” prosecutors who sincerely want to help their community.

We started the training by discussing values we associate with prosecution. We talked about what it means to contribute positively to the community. We talked about what success means in any given case. We pointedly did not introduce hard data concepts immediately but waited to ask challenging questions about metrics and measurement.

As we approached the second half of the training, we broached basic data concepts — ideas like mean, median, and bias. This can be difficult material for prosecutors. Most of us (myself definitely included) were allergic to math in high school — we chose a profession where we could talk instead of add, subtract, multiply, and divide.

The hard data lecture moved immediately into a presentation about SCDAG’s own data. Here we showed the gathered prosecutors how their office was doing — how many cases they were seeing every year, how many trials, how many convictions, and how many dismissals, among other things.

As a former prosecutor, I can tell you that the change that ran through the room when this data was presented was positively electric. Hands shot into the air. People shouted out. Prosecutors immediately morphed into amateur data scientists, asking intelligent, sophisticated questions about sample size and other skewed results.

What I witnessed in that room was a collection of prosecutors beginning the same transformation I went through when I joined JIL — realizing there is a way to actually evaluate our performance — a better, more accurate way to describe ourselves as “good” prosecutors. It’s an invaluable lesson, one which leads to better prosecutorial outcomes and more justice in our system — and it’s a lesson I believe penetrated deeply in Memphis

You can watch a 4-minute video highlighting the JIL training with SCDAG here.

If you are interested in learning more about JIL’s training for prosecutors or our work in District Attorney’s offices around the country, contact us here

By: Daniel Davis, Justice Innovation Lab Program and Partnerships Fellow

For more information about Justice Innovation Lab, visit



Justice Innovation Lab

Justice Innovation Lab builds data-informed, community-rooted solutions for a more equitable, effective, and fair justice system.