How prosecutors can help end mass incarceration, with Larry Krasner

Now Larry Krasner, who is a true believer in criminal justice reform and deconstructing the machinery of mass incarceration, sits atop the office that produces incarceration in one of the biggest cities in America. He is the rebel who has taken the palace and he now sits there at the desk, making the decisions that the people he spent his life battling against and critiquing used to make, and now he has to be the one to implement his vision of what a more just and humane system looks like while also being the person that prosecutes crimes that takes alleged rapists and alleged murderers, and puts them behind bars that finds people who are accused of violently accosting fellow citizens and decides how much to charge them, how long they need to be kept away from society. He now has that power and that control.

…WEhen you get to the point where one in three black men is going to experience jail in their lifetime you have come to a moment. It’s a moment not just for them, it’s a moment for their sisters and their mothers who are watching the consequences of a young person who does something not so bad getting a felony and therefore being effectively unemployable the rest of their life.

…We sit around a table, and determine whether the sentence we should recommend for the re-sentencing is 50 years, or it’s time served at 20 years. We’re doing this while looking at what the prior administration was willing to recommend before they left. Sometimes the numbers we’re recommending are 10 years less. Sometimes they’re the same, or even more. But, often they’re gonna be 10 years less, or 15 years less.

Well, think about that for a minute. You’re looking at 10 years times what, $42,000, or maybe more. Or 15 years times $42,000, you’re dealing with a half a million dollars, $600,000. And you’re dealing with that in a city that has public schools that are starved for funding, and you’re making a decision about where society’s resources are gonna go, and I don’t have to get that past anybody in the state legislature. That is a decision that, ultimately, is up to me.

When we look at all of these juvenile lifers who’ve been released, in Pennsylvania, as a consequence of these re-sentencings, out of all of them, we have not one who has committed a serious violent crime. To the best of my knowledge, only one who’s committed any crime. We’re dealing with recidivism at a rate that is essentially equal, to a random selection of the population. They are no more dangerous. They’re supposedly monsters who had to spend their entire lives in jail, but they’re no more dangerous than the average person walking down the street.

…We looked at the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines, and we realized how excessive and inappropriate they were, we made a decision on a range of offenses that are not sex offenses, and not violent offenses, we made a decision that our offers to resolve those cases should be below the bottom end of the sentencing guidelines. Why? Because those are the sentencing guidelines that gave us a 700 percent increase in jail population, while the rest of the country was already drunk on 500 percent. They’re just too high. It’s that simple.

…Having looked at the example of D.C., where for 30 years they’ve had very successful bail system that never included money, we realized that Pennsylvania’s legislature wouldn’t give us a law, like they had in D.C., that says, “Judges cannot use money.” But, what we could do, is we, as an office, could make recommendations to judges in many different types offenses that were not sex offenses, and not violent offenses, and not felony possession of a weapon, we can make a recommendation, ordinarily, that we don’t want any money.

The way we did this, is we looked at 26 different crimes, where ordinarily, the judges were given between $0 and $1,000 bail to get out of jail. Which means, the middle class people always got out, the rich people always got out, and the people who were completely broke, and could not find $250, stayed in jail, for months, at a price to the taxpayer of $135 a day, simply because they were broke.

… So, we took those 26 crimes and we created a presumption that we will never ask for cash. That doesn’t mean… Look, if Charles Manson shows up in Philly, and commits a minor offense, and we know he’s Charles Manson, we’re going for a bunch of cash bail. We want to keep him jail, right? But, it just means that the default position is we’re not gonna ask for it. The consequence of this was, between the sentencing, policy, and the cash bail policy, that in the first 45 days, after we put these policies into effect, we saw reductions in the county jail population of about 13 people per day, where the reductions before the policy went into effect were about six people per day. You know, there was a doubling of the rate of reduction of people in our over-crowded county prisons as a consequence of these two policies, and that happened 45 days into the administration. It was an immediate effect. And we are at the point now, where Philadelphia is ready to close one of it’s four county jails because there aren’t any people in that jail.

How prosecutors can help end mass incarceration, with Larry Krasner: podcast & transcript

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