Philly DA Larry Krasner asks City Council for 13% funding increase

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner was sworn in a little more than 100 days ago.

Now he’s asking City Council to give his office a 13 percent raise.

During a two-hour budget hearing at City Hall on Tuesday, an impassioned Krasner said he needs an extra $5 million to modernize his office’s technological capabilities, recruit new staffers from more diverse backgrounds, and correct pay inequities that he says have affected women and minorities already employed at the office.

“We need that support,” Krasner told Council members. “We need to be able to compensate a staff that has been very much underpaid, we need to equalize discriminatory compensation against women and people of color, and we need to bring in the best and the brightest.”

His remarks highlighted a day of budget hearings in which testimony also was provided by leaders of the court system, the Law Department, and the Defender Association of Philadelphia.

But it was Krasner, the first-time prosecutor, who asked for the biggest funding increase, saying his predecessors had allowed the office to become “outdated” and “a Grade-B District Attorney’s Office,” and had deliberately recruited staff from a limited pool of applicants — problems he believes additional funding can help rectify. Krasner was similarly critical of the office’s technological capabilities, saying: “When I walked in and saw the IT in that office, I thought I was back in 1986.”

Mayor Kenney, in his budget proposal, had agreed to give Krasner’s office an increase of $868,000 for fiscal year 2019, bringing the office’s total funding level to $38.2 million. Kenney’s spokesman, Mike Dunn, said in an email that “no other independently elected official made a request” of the size Krasner sought, and that the Mayor’s Office understands “the District Attorney’s concerns, some (but not all) of which he voiced during our conversations while we prepared the budget.”

In arguing for an increase more than five times as large as Kenney’s proposal, Krasner told Council members — who ultimately control the city’s budget — that he wanted to continue quickly reshaping the office internally with aggressive recruitment of lawyers across the country. He said previous administrations recruited from a deliberately small set of law schools and other professional avenues, which left the office without a national reputation to attract the best candidates — something he wants to change.

“This was not actually an accident, this was intentional,” Krasner said. “This was the people in charge wanting to replicate themselves.”

He also said he believes that many of his policy initiatives, which have been designed to reduce the number of people behind bars, will begin yielding the city savings sooner rather than later.

He pointed to his office’s stance on juvenile lifers, each of whom is entitled to a new sentence thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court decision. His office has been suggesting earlier releases for many of the affected inmates than had been granted under former district attorneys. Krasner said that if 100 prisoners are released 10 years earlier than they otherwise would have been, the savings in incarceration costs could almost immediately reach into the millions.

“That’s just one of the things we’re doing,” Krasner said, also highlighting reducing the use of cash bail and seeking shorter sentences for certain crimes.

Few Council members on Tuesday got into the nuts-and-bolts of how and when money might be appropriated. The discussion with Krasner — who was flanked by first assistants Carolyn Engel Temin and Robert Listenbee — revolved around some of his early policy changes, aspirations, and challenges in his quest to revamp the city’s criminal justice system.

Other city agencies will have similar budget hearings over the next several weeks. Council is expected to pass a final budget — which could total $4.7 billion — by mid-June.

Staff writer Claudia Vargas contributed to this article.