Prosecutorial Process

These conversations are a part of ongoing dialogue around this illustration of the criminal justice system in Greater MSP. Justice for All worked with its Community Advisory Committee and used findings from its community-driven research process to create an illustration of the criminal justice system in Greater MSP. The illustration is intended to bring light to a system that’s challenging to understand, even for those who live and work within it.

John Choi is the Ramsey County Attorney, a position he’s held since 2011. He is the first Korean-American chief prosecutor in the country. In 1973, at three years old, he immigrated to Saint Paul, MN from South Korea with his parents. 

"I have the great opportunity to work in collaboration with people in the system and community, especially impacted communities, and to come up with solutions..."

Autumn Mason is a re-entry coach, a doula and a peer support professional with the Minnesota Prison Doula Project, an organization that supports families of justice-impacted.

"I've personally have been an incarceration survivor..."

This entry is part of a series of posts that seek to demystify the criminal justice process in the Greater MSP area and shine a light on injustices embedded within the system. This post will focus on the prosecutorial process.

An illustration describing the criminal justice system including community conditions, policing, the court system and the corrections system.
Click on the image to expand the view.

As the current Ramsey County Attorney, John Choi recognizes that the design of the criminal justice system is an issue. The system has been this way since the inception of America –– it’s been designed to punish and penalize people. While the system may be flawed and oppressive now, it was created with the best intentions. But the best intentions from a certain period in history do not always translate as things change and years pass.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. Photo courtesy of the Ramsey County Attorney Office.

"It's designed like an assembly line fashion so that everybody has their own swim lanes and they're supposed to do their piece or part of it; to move something along."

John Choi

In our community-driven research process, we heard again and again that individuals need to worry about the prosecutor, since they have the power to determine the fate of that individual within the justice system. When it comes to bail and pre-trial release, although the prosecutor makes the recommendation for bail, we heard from the community that they felt the Judge often follows that recommendation without reviewing the case themselves. John gives us a glimpse into the prosecutorial process and the ways justice-impacted individuals feel powerless and dehumanized.

Autumn also sees the lack of humanity inherent in the criminal justice system. She knows firsthand the trauma being part of the incarceration cycle including being a child of parents who have been incarcerated and experiencing incarceration herself. In 2014, Autumn was pregnant at the time of her incarceration and became a participant of the Minnesota Prison Doula Project. Upon the completion of her sentence in 2016, she became an advocate for the program. She shares her thoughts on the illustration and why the prosecutorial system is designed to fail people. 

"The system has affected many people like me in almost every way imaginable..."

"When I look at the prosecutorial process, it's a setup – it's a setup to fail..."

"I was incarcerated with many women who were there because they were suffering in society. Society didn't care to help support them. Instead, it wanted to throw them away, and that is not justice."

Autumn Mason

Although it feels daunting at times, there is optimism that the system can slowly transform and reform. To address the cycle of mass incarceration, John sees that there is room for discretion when enforcing laws which can radically change outcomes. 

In order to redesign the system, it requires empowering the communities that are most impacted. John sees his role as connecting community values to the criminal justice system. 

"I've decided to take a stand and move certain things forward that may not align with a traditional way of thinking..."

For Autumn, she express how the little wins such as new policies can invigorate people’s hope that change can happen. In May, Governor Walz signed into law the Healthy Start Act, which stops the separation of mothers in prison from their newborns, making Minnesota the first state in the nation to do so. The program places new mothers in community-based settings and allow them to be with their newborn for up to a year after birth. Autumn sees this as an opportunity to create generations of change and breaking the incarceration cycle. 

"I do know that when people are suffering and people are struggling, it should be the community that supports them, not continue to damage them and traumatize them. As communities, we need to make spaces for people to not just heal or redeem themselves, but to heal, to be accepted and to be supported."

Autumn Mason

In addition, Autumn talks about different changes to the prosecutorial process that she believes would make the criminal justice system more just. She also hints toward issues experienced during reentry and why it’s important to provide resources and support for people returning to sociey.

"Not accept the system for what it is, but actually imagine a different system..."

A large part of the solution lies with people and with community. John shares ideas and creative strategies that are community focused to make transformation happen.

Explore more stories in this series​

Justice for All is a multi-year collaboration between the Greater Twin Cities United Way, the Minneapolis Foundation and the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation to transform the criminal justice system in Greater MSP.