Offer shorter prison sentences in plea deals. Decline certain classes of criminal charges. And explain, on the record, why taxpayers should fork over thousands of dollars per year to incarcerate people.
Those are some of the instructions that Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has outlined for the office’s 300 prosecutors — perhaps the boldest set of policies yet of his busy two-month tenure, and in line with his campaign promise to reduce the number of people behind bars.
“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,” Krasner wrote in a memo this month to prosecutors that was obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News. “Over-incarceration also tears the fabric of defendants’ familial and work relationships that tend to rehabilitate defendants who are open to rehabilitation and thereby prevent crime.”
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 fact that he has put this in a policy paper … I think is a really big step,” said Meg Reiss, executive director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “I personally have not seen it this concrete in one document.”
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