In the third episode of the Discussions with DPIC podcast’s Rethinking Public Safety series, Miriam Krinsky (pictured) speaks with DPIC Senior Director of Research and Special Projects Ngozi Ndulue about her experiences as a former federal prosecutor and the Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution (FJP), a network of elected prosecutors devoted to promoting fairness, equity, compassion, and fiscal responsibility in the criminal legal system.

Krinsky and Ndulue explore a range of issues during the podcast, including the injustice of the death penalty, the power of prosecutors to create change, the evolving relationship between prosecutors and law enforcement, the importance of transparency and public accountability, and myths about public safety. “In my mind,” Krinsky says, “eliminating capital punishment improves public safety.”

Krinsky’s exposure to the realities of the criminal justice system during her career as a prosecutor — from wrongful convictions to horrific racial disparities, prosecutorial misconduct, and ineffective assistance of counsel — has strengthened her opposition to capital punishment. “I always philosophically had deep concerns about the notion that as a government, as a state, and as a criminal justice system, we should sanction the taking of somebody’s life. But over the years, what I’ve seen has deepened that view,” she says.

Krinsky spent 15 years as a federal prosecutor and has served on numerous commissions, working on investigating and reforming the legal system. In the podcast, Krinsky describes how her background as an immigrant and daughter of a Holocaust survivor ingrained in her a sense of responsibility to serve her community, which pushed her toward a career in public service.

“Prosecutors fundamentally control the front door of the justice system,” Krinsky says. “They have this unbelievable amount of clout to chart the course for somebody’s future, for better or for worse, and in doing so to redefine a vision for safer and healthier communities that parts company with the decades of tough on crime punitive responses.” This philosophy guides the purpose of FJP, which creates a network of elected leaders that can be “the driving force behind change in the criminal legal system.”

One change Krinsky believes is necessary is ending the reliance on unnecessarily harsh punishments. The United States is “the only Western nation that continues to abide by a system of execution,” she says, and has the highest incarceration rate in the world. The system of capital punishment should “trouble us as a nation,” Krinsky urges, “because we are paying a lot of money for a system that no one has been able clearly to show is a deterrent.” Ultimately, “this is a failed system,” she told Ndulue.

Krinsky concludes that eliminating capital punishment will promote public safety. “If we are doing things in the name of public safety that are failed, that don’t work, and that aren’t morally sound, then we’ve lost the trust of our community, and we’ve lost our moral compass.”

On June 30, 2021, Krinsky co-authored an op-ed in the Washington Post with Washington, D.C. attorney general Karl A. Racine and Arlington County, Virginia commonwealth’s attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti urging President Biden to follow through on his campaign promise to work to abolish the federal death penalty. “[T]here is no more dramatic example of systemic racism in criminal justice than [capital punishment],” they wrote. “Historians have found that executions took hold in the early 1900s as a way to satisfy lynch mobs and quell criticism that the killing of Black people before cheering audiences was undermining America’s image on the world stage. As the era of lynchings slowly came to an end, the use of the death penalty accelerated.”

The op-ed noted that “[i]n both federal and state cases, the death penalty is used disproportionately against people who receive deficient legal representation and who are poor, mentally ill, traumatized or intellectually disabled. For more than 40 years, many have tried to make America’s death penalty system just. If it were possible, we would have done it by now. It is long past time to end this failed experiment.”

“Biden can and must do something about our flawed capital punishment system,” Krinsky, Racine, and Dehghani-Tafti wrote. “We urge him to keep his campaign pledge and end the federal death penalty now by commuting all federal capital sentences, directing the Justice Department to no longer seek these sentences and dismantling the government’s machinery of death. This is a necessary step on the road to addressing systemic racism. If we can do this, we will finally begin building the justice system that we all deserve: one grounded in equity, fairness and proven strategies to keep communities safe.”


Discussions with DPIC pod­cast, Rethinking Public Safety, A Conversation with Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution, Miriam Krinsky, pub­lished August 26, 2021; Karl Racine, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, and Miriam Krinsky, Opinion: Mr. President, keep your promise on the death penal­ty, Washington Post, June 302021.