Adam Foss is a former Assistant District Attorney (ADA) in the Juvenile Division of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in Boston, MA. Currently, he works as an advocate for juvenile justice reform and prosecutor integrity to ultimately end mass incarceration. Foss wants to replace criminal punishment with opportunity. His desire is to reinvent the prosecution profession, requiring better incentives and more measurable metrics for success beyond just “cases won.”
Reforming Our Justice System
Foss, a passionate speaker on the topic, gave a TED Talk to make his case for a reformed justice system. In “A Prosecutor’s Vision for a Better Justice System,” Foss imagines a system that helps young offenders stay out of prison and instead helps them on a path to a more productive life.
He tells us the story of Christopher, a then 18-year-old African American male who had been arrested in Boston in 2009. In his youth, Christopher made the bad decision to steal 30 laptops from his part-time job at Best Buy and sell them online. He was consequently faced with 30 charges of felony larceny.
As the ADA on the case, Foss feared jail time for Christopher. He was even more concerned with the impact a criminal record would have on the 18-year-old’s life. Foss had a choice: he could prosecute Christopher for 30 felonies, one felony, or a misdemeanor.
Ultimately, Foss did not arraign Christopher, but instead, he worked with him to get 75 percent of the computers back, and a made a payment plan for him to repay the store for the rest. Christopher eventually went on to get a scholarship to attend college, and he now works as the manager of a bank in Boston.
Years later, Christopher approached Foss at an event. He hugged him saying, “You cared about me and you changed my life.”
“I can’t take credit for his success, but I certainly did my part in keeping him on the right path,” said Foss.
A Second Chance
Christopher represents just one of the thousands of people who made a mistake. They still deserve to have a second chance at turning their life around and getting back on the right path.
Foss works to do just that. With his reform initiatives, he is completely reinventing the role of the criminal prosecutor. He is one of today’s leading voices for compassion in criminal justice.
“I learned the power of the prosecutor to change lives instead of ruin them,” Foss says.
Watch his full TED Talk here: