Building prosecutorial autonomy from within: The transformation of the Ministério Público in Brazil

Coslovsky, Salo and Amit Nigam

How do prosecutors acquire professional prerogatives, organizational autonomy, and legal authority? In contrast to previous research, which identifies top-down, bottom-up and outside-in models of reform, we show that government officials can engage in transformation from within their own ranks. Specifically, we examine how Brazilian prosecutors evolved from a low profile assemblage of transient and politically dependent prosecutors into one of the most autonomous and authoritative public agencies in the country. We find that they created cohesion among their ranks, lobbied incessantly, and crafted alliances that nonetheless keep their options open. Thanks to this responsive and pragmatic strategy, they took full advantage of ongoing turbulence in Brazilian politics: whenever the opportunity context expanded, they advanced their cause; whenever the context contracted, they strengthened their mobilizing structures and protected their gains. While previous research looks at one transition at a time, this longitudinal study shows the heterogeneous strategies of long-term reform.

Wagner Faculty