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Revived GA Prosecutorial Commission: Watchdog or Weapon?

Georgia Republicans are reviving a controversial Prosecutors Attorneys Qualifications Commission (PAQC) after a state DA dared to prosecute GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. Critics say the commission could carry heavy implications for the justice system, particularly regarding prosecutors advocating for progressive reform.


Governor Brian Kemp claimed the legislation “will help ensure rogue and incompetent prosecutors are held accountable if they refuse to uphold the law,” but concerns abound about the commission’s potential use as a tool to challenge and intimidate lenient or reformist district attorneys (DAs). Such personalities include Douglas County DA Dalia Racine and Fulton County DA Fani Willis, who have championed alternative sentencing and rehabilitation programs for defendants with mental health and addiction issues.


“This panel will end up being used, openly or discreetly, to admonish and deter prosecutors ...."

Racine and Willis are at the forefront of a national call for a more compassionate and equitable approach to addressing crime. Willis, however, has garnered considerable animosity from Trump voters and the Republican Party for prosecuting Trump over his alleged effort to overturn his 2020 electoral defeat. When not being a thorn in the side of an ex-president, Willis invests considerable resources on reviewing past criminal cases, as does Racine. Both advocate for new sentences for non-violent offenders and collaborate with families of defendants struggling with mental health and addiction issues. Their initiatives aim to humanize the sentencing process, prioritize rehabilitation over punishment and address the root cause of crime.


Critics say the reinstatement of the PAQC could prove an obstacle to these efforts. The commission investigates allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and checks qualifications, but Atlanta resident Damita Bishop, co-founder of Fighting Against Institutional Railroading (F.A.I.R), warned that the revival of the PAQC under Gov. Kemp raises concerns about its potential misuse as a tool for political interference and intimidation. In addition to providing cover for politically connected criminals, Kemp and others could potentially use the panel to gum up justice system reform with a deluge of investigations and inquiries.


“The reality is that any prosecutor who has begun making positive strides in their jurisdiction will be labeled in political terms as ‘progressive, reformist, or soft on crime,’” Bishop told BGX. “This panel will end up being used, openly or discreetly, to admonish and deter prosecutors from seeking alternatives to ‘business-as-usual’ mass incarceration prosecutions.”


The PAQC could be used to revive outdated "tough on crime" politicians who have packed prisons with expensive inmates and enriched private prison industries while making no clear impact on crime.


“When Chatham County DA Shalena Cooks Jones took office, she noticed that a majority of incarcerated citizens were given life sentences when there was no clear evidence of guilt or innocence. This violates the ‘reasonable doubt’ laws that would prevent incarceration,” said Bishop. “In recent years, prosecutors in this and other states have begun to acknowledge the real issues around mass incarceration: poor police investigation, incentive driven prosecutions, disproportionate sentencing, and loss to the community. That is all about to take a huge step back.”


Jones, Racine and Willis are democratically elected politicians who follow the will of their constituents when they argue for compassionate and rehabilitative models backed by analysts. Kemp's PAQC could potentially be a step backward for voters by targeting prosecutors who advocate for reform and rehabilitation. Marginalized communities that traditionally bear the brunt of “tough on crime” tactics would disproportionately suffer under a re-energized cycle of incarceration.


Bishop said she is not averse to the existence of sincere, effective oversight. A prosecution's sanctions panel, she said, could prove useful in a trial’s pretrial phase to minimize or prevent prosecutorial misconduct and to ensure the integrity of each conviction. However, she said similar panels are more often used in other states to prevent post-conviction relief. The threat of a PAQC investigation could even have a chilling effect on prosecutor’s intent to pursue progressive policies.


“They just want to keep their system of modern systematic slavery in this state, regardless of innocence or minimal guilt,” Bishop said.


Advocates say transparency and accountability in PAQC operations will be necessary to ensure a political agenda will not be the guiding factor in investigations. The commission, they say, must operate independently and impartially to effectively fulfill its mandate.

As Georgia moves forward with the reinstatement of the PAQC, the state finds itself at a crossroads in its approach to criminal justice. Decisions made in the coming months will shape the future of the Georgia justice system and have broader implications for the national conversation surrounding criminal justice reform.


C. Dreams is an advocate who writes and lectures about prison and criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights, harm reduction, and government and cultural criticism.


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