District attorneys’ offices across the U.S. are struggling to recruit and retain lawyers, with some experiencing vacancies of up to 16% and a dearth of applicants for open jobs, according to interviews with more than a dozen top prosecutors and five state and national prosecutors’ associations, according to Reuters.
The district attorneys said the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing concern about racial inequities in the criminal justice system — compounded by long-standing issues with relatively low pay and burnout — have made a career as a state prosecutor a tougher sell in the past several years.
“We're seeing a prosecutor shortage throughout the country; it's not limited to large jurisdictions versus small jurisdictions,” said Nelson Bunn, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, a trade group with 5,000 members.
The number of applicants to prosecutor positions in San Diego County — which has the second-largest district attorney’s office in California at 330 lawyers — fell 28% between 2019 and 2021, according to chief deputy district attorney Dwain Woodley.
In Utah, open positions in the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office are hovering between 21 and 25 in an office that should have 133 lawyers, and attorneys in its special victims’ unit are handling double the number of cases recommended by the American Bar Association, District Attorney Sim Gill said.
“Crime has not dissipated in any significant way to offset the backlog,” Gill said.
Staffing shortages are affecting prosecutors’ decisions about whether to bring certain criminal cases to trial, according to Anthony Jordan, president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York.
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