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Philly DA Larry Krasner’s Campaign to End Mass Incarceration

The New Yorker – Philadelphia’s District Attorney reinvents the role of the modern prosecutor: “…In 2015, Philadelphia had the highest incarceration rate of America’s ten largest cities. As its population grew more racially diverse and a new generation became politically active, its “tough on crime” policies fell further out of synch with its residents’ views. During Krasner’s campaign, hundreds of people—activists he had represented, supporters of Bernie Sanders, Black Lives Matter leaders, former prisoners—knocked on tens of thousands of doors on his behalf. Michael Coard, a left-wing critic of the city’s criminal-justice system, wrote in the Philadelphia Tribune that Krasner was the “blackest white guy I know.” The composer and musician John Legend, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, tweeted an endorsement. In the three weeks before the primary, a PAC funded by the liberal billionaire George Soros spent $1.65 million on pro-Krasner mailers and television ads. Strangers started recognizing him on the street. He trounced his six opponents in the primary, and went on to win the general election, on November 7, 2017, with seventy-five per cent of the vote. He was sworn in on January 1, 2018, by his wife.

…Krasner’s first initiative was to eliminate cash bail for most nonviolent crimes. “We don’t imprison the poor in the United States for the so-called crime of poverty,” he said. In March, he sent a memo to his staff outlining his policies, which he described as “an effort to end mass incarceration and bring balance back to sentencing.” Few of the ideas were truly new—many progressive prosecutors have stopped prosecuting people for possessing small amounts of marijuana, for instance, or have increased the number of people diverted from prison into drug-rehab programs—but the memo caught on in criminal-justice circles, arguably because of one recommendation: each time a prosecutor wanted to send somebody to prison, he had to calculate the cost of that imprisonment (an estimated forty-two thousand dollars per inmate per year), state it aloud in court, and explain the “unique benefits” of the punishment. James Forman, Jr., the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning study of race and criminal justice “Locking Up Our Own,” teaches at Yale Law School. He assigned the memo as reading in his criminal-law class. Krasner’s suggestion was powerful, Forman told me: “Nobody seems to ask the questions of prison that we ever ask of any other aspect of the system. Nobody says, ‘Well, if prison didn’t work last time, maybe we shouldn’t try it the next time.’ “

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