Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s new district attorney who was backed by billionaire George Soros, recently rolled out sweeping policy changes “to end mass incarceration and bring balance back to sentencing” in the City of Brotherly Love.
The progressive Democrat issued a memo to 300 assistant DAs last Tuesday outlining several bold reforms crafted to reduce the number of people in jail. The procedural shifts instruct prosecutors to stop charging people for possession of marijuana, seek lighter sentences with plea deals, and directs them to obtain approval from supervisors before requesting more punitive penalties.
As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports:
Krasner highlighted one element of the memo at a news conference Thursday: the requirement that prosecutors, when asking a judge to sentence a defendant to prison, specify how much it will cost taxpayers to keep the person behind bars.
Taken in full, the five-page document – which also addresses policies around plea offers, diversion programs, and some charging decisions – is likely to impact thousands of criminal cases in the state’s busiest prosecutor’s office and one of the nation’s most violent cities.
Criminal justice experts said some of the guidelines appeared to be unprecedented, a blend of research and practices touted by reform advocates but perhaps never made so explicit in writing by a top prosecutor.
The memo encourages prosecutors to consider several department talking points before making their sentencing recommendations, such as:
The cost of one year of unnecessary incarceration (at $42,000.00 - $60,000.00) is in the range of the cost of one year’s salary for a beginning teacher, police officer, fire fighter, social worker, Assistant District Attorney, or addiction counselor.
“Pennsylvania’s and Philadelphia’s over-incarceration have bankrupted investment in policing, public education, medical treatment of addiction, job training and economic development — which prevent crime more effectively than money invested in corrections,” wrote Krasner, who had never prosecuted a criminal case before taking office two months ago.
During his 30 years as a defense attorney, Krasner became known for filing 75 civil rights lawsuits against the city’s police department and representing radical activists from groups like Black Lives Matter and Occupy Philadelphia, pro bono. After making his lack of prosecutorial experience a focal point of his campaign, Krasner won in a landslide last November, capturing 75% of the vote.
“This is a story about a movement,” Krasner said after his victory. “And this is a movement that is tired of seeing the system that has systematically picked on poor people — primarily black and brown people.”
Black and brown residents constitute approximately 57% of Philadelphia’s population.
Soros had contributed more than $1.6 million to a political action committee that supported Krasner’s candidacy. The organization, called Philadelphia Justice & Public Safety, paid for people to walk neighborhoods campaigning on his behalf and also financed television commercials and other advertisements.
Krasner, who was sworn-in on January 2, fired 31 prosecutors who did not share his vision during his first week on the job. Last month, he eliminated cash bail for low-level offenses. His anti-incarceration platform is the latest of many Soros-backed reform efforts intended to reverse local sentencing laws throughout the nation.
In 2011, Soros’ international grantmaking network and other deep-pocketed foundations began funding multi-pronged drives demanding California change its policies on crime and imprisonment. Since then, Soros has spent millions convincing voters in the Golden State to approve ballot measures that reclassified many felonies to misdemeanors and revamped the state’s parole guidelines. Soros-funded political action committees — like the one that supported Krasner — started sprouting up around the country in 2015, established to elect progressive prosecutors on the local level.
As Politico previously reported:
Soros has spent on district attorney campaigns in Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas through a network of state-level super PACs and a national “527” unlimited-money group, each named a variation on “Safety and Justice.” (Soros has also funded a federal super PAC with the same name.) Each organization received most of its money directly from Soros, according to public state and federal financial records. …
Some of these targeted, Soros-influenced races had been researched by progressive groups that identified potential regions and electorates which might be more receptive to transform its local criminal justice system fundamentally.
"There is without question a national movement toward having progressive prosecutors all over the country," Krasner told HBO's "Vice News Tonight" in an interview broadcast last Wednesday. "It's in Chicago; it's in San Francisco, Houston, it's happening quickly. The rate of winning is high."
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.