Even as her business has become more intense – she started working on murder trials in 2013 – Ms. Lang’s ambitions to improve the office have grown bigger. After winning a wiretapping case against 35 people for selling angel dust, heroin and cocaine, she successfully introduced the office’s leadership team to a program promoting alternatives to incarceration for young offenders. (This later became a unit that offers some defendants the opportunity to participate in community programs instead of jail.)
At that time, Ms. Lang said, she was not nervous to introduce herself to the leaders of the office; she knew them all.
In January 2017, Ms. Agnifilo promoted Ms. Lang, giving her a special position as a policy officer in the office. That fall, Ms. Lang piloted the first iteration of what would become the Inside Criminal Justice initiative, a series of seminars that brought together prosecutors and incarcerated people to discuss the justice system and how to improve.
Jarrell Daniels, a participant in the initiative who had recently been released from prison, was so intrigued by the program that he asked to return to the facility to continue it. He remembered sitting around a table in a cramped conference room, watching attendees toast Mrs. Lang.
“She’s either brave or crazy or maybe she’s both,” he recalls thinking.
“She sat there in a sort of pose as they told her about the district attorney’s office and talked about their personal experiences with the justice system,” he said. “Although that wasn’t what she was here for, she kind of allowed them to share their room.”
‘What are we waiting for?’
Ideas about the criminal justice system changed rapidly during Mr. Vance’s tenure.
In 2010, he was considered one of the most liberal district attorneys in the country. When he steps down at the end of this year, he will do so as a moderate on the surface – not because he’s necessarily changed, but because a wave of more recently elected prosecutors have acted aggressively to tackle what they see as fundamental injustices in the system. (Advocates for Mr. Vance respond that he cut prosecutions by almost 60% and established one of the country’s first conviction integrity programs, among other accomplishments.)
More than a dozen of these newly elected prosecutors approved Ms Lang’s candidacy, including Marilyn Mosby, the state prosecutor in Baltimore. She said Ms Lang was one of the most prominent people behind the scenes of the progressive prosecutorial movement, especially through her work at the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution, a role she took on in 2018 and that she left last year.