Lucy Lang is a career prosecutor who worked for twelve years in the Manhattan DA’s office as both an Assistant District Attorney and the Executive Director of the Manhattan DA Academy before moving in 2018 to direct the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College. At John Jay, Lang was tasked with developing “the next generation of ideas and thought leaders in the field of prosecution,” and she worked with prosecutors, academics, law enforcement officials, and community leaders. Her former boss, Cy Vance, as well as another member of his executive team in the DA’s office serve as co-chairs of the Institute’s advisory board.
Despite Lang’s time at John Jay where she heard from incarcerated individuals directly impacted by overzealous prosecution, her plans fail to cede the power of the office she seeks. Lang operates from the position that the DA’s office and the criminal punishment system are the right tools to solve social issues. With this worldview, she does not plan to reduce the office’s staff or its enormous budget, or eliminate units that have been publicly criticized as unnecessary and problematic. Instead, her plans merely repackage the current practices with new language and partnerships that will only expand the reach of her office. Unlike other candidates, she does not have a list of crimes that she would decline to prosecute, opting to make those considerations on a case-by-case basis; her position fails to acknowledge the harmful impact of over-policing in Black and brown communities and does little to reduce it.
Lang is eager to use new tools and expand her power in ways that place Black and brown families in danger. In a recent op-ed, Lang claims that though domestic violence incidents are often unreported, advocacy groups and survivor hotlines have been flooded with calls during the pandemic. Her analysis fails to acknowledge that women, specifically women of color, do not report incidents to police and prosecutors because the criminal punishment system does not protect them or offer the services and outcomes they often seek. Furthermore, throughout the interview, Lang rarely discussed the role of racism within the system or the experiences of low-income people of color who are arrested and accused of crimes. She instead focused on her plans to use “human-centric language” and address accused people by their names, moving away from dehumanizing labels like “defendant.” While this is an improvement to the current practice, it does not address race-based stops, systemic prosecutorial racism, or the countless collateral consequences experienced by Black and brown communities. Using someone’s name as you endorse their racially-motivated arrest and pursue their racially-disproportionate prosecution is certainly not transformative change and would be “progressive” in name only.
Lang does not believe that incarceration should be the default, but many of her proposals funnel people through the criminal punishment system to force services upon them. She fails to recognize the enormous harm that police contact and a pending criminal case wreaks in a person’s life, especially if the the DA concludes that they have “failed” a program. We find it troubling that Lang uses progressive language to disguise continued carceral actions, and that she professed ignorance of many practices of the Manhattan DA’s office even though she is only two years removed from her career there. Lang’s own website describes her as a criminal justice reform leader, but she struggled to acknowledge her own role in fueling mass incarceration as a career prosecutor. Throughout our interview, she distanced herself from the very office where she climbed through the ranks for twelve years. As a former high ranking member of Vance’s office and someone with close ties to him, it is clear that Lang is reaping the benefits of his institutional support while also trying to maintain public distance to avoid the critiques that come with that association.
Support for Decarceral Outcomes
With regards to charging decisions, Lang was open to changing course but failed to make firm commitments. She disagreed with categorically declining to prosecute certain offenses, but did recognize the harm in the continued prosecution of “broken windows” offenses and would work to vacate these convictions.
Lang also recognized that it is unnecessary to prosecute the majority of manufactured and victimless crimes. She agreed that “bump up” charges (misdemeanor conduct charged as felonies) are not a necessary practice, but she will continue to use them in cases where repeated domestic violence is alleged.
Lang supports ending mandatory minimums and reducing maximums, as well as repealing the predicate sentencing statute, which enhances penalties based on a person’s criminal history. But when asked about a sentencing cap, an issue that has been discussed nationally and by other candidates in the race, Lang did not have a number in mind.
Lang plans to create a specialty part for handling gun cases and hopes that trauma-informed judges will oversee those cases. She recognizes that much of the work of ending gun violence must take place within the communities that are impacted by it. Nevertheless, she put forth an aggressive plan that would increase police contact with Black and brown communities and expand opportunities for police to execute search warrants in people’s homes in hopes of finding guns.
Rubric Category: Harmful approach: will maintain scope of power but redirect prosecutions, e.g., the “progressive prosecutor”