When Larry Krasner took the stage for his inauguration earlier this month, he said he was a technician for a movement. A technician for us.
If he’s our technician, we have a lot of work lined up for him and his team — and a set of instructions on how we can collaborate to make those changes happen.
The movement that elected the most progressive district attorney in the country is a movement grounded in our experiences with the criminal justice system.
We know how survivors of violence must fight for their rights to be heard. We know how bail — as well as electronic monitors and court fines and fees — can put a price tag on freedom and prevent us from accessing the supports and services that keep us from being arrested again. We know what kinds of policies are needed that will lessen the threat of detention and deportation in immigrant communities, and truly make Philadelphia a sanctuary city.
Here are some of the most vital transformations that Krasner and his team should execute over the next year:
End cash bail and massively reduce pretrial incarceration. The city has already taken proactive steps and secured $3.5 million to reduce our jail population by a third over the next few years. But bold steps are needed if the city is to meet and surpass that goal. That means ending the use of bail, a system that deliberately punishes poor people and people of color, and making sure we don’t replace it with an unjustified expansion of oppressive surveillance conditions, like electronic monitoring and mandatory programs. Krasner can direct his assistant district attorneys to not ask for bail for the vast majority of accused people, can push for expanded decarceration, and can use his platform to encourage bail magistrates and commissioners under the direction of the First Judicial Court to change their policies.
Don’t use racist algorithms to decide people’s freedom. Philly is strongly considering putting a predictive computer program, called a risk assessment algorithm, into the pretrial process, sorting people into “risky” and “nonrisky” categories. But these tools arguably take decades of racist data and embed racism in their predictions. While we could end bail today without risk assessment algorithms, any risk assessment algorithm the city does decide to use must be independently proven to massively reduce detention and reduce racial disparities in pretrial incarceration and supervision, and overseen by the community. Krasner could push for this kind of oversight.
Change urgent policies at the intersection of criminal justice and immigration. For many in our city’s immigrant communities, an interaction with the criminal justice system can have devastating consequences. Krasner’s staff must be trained on the immigration consequences of charges and convictions, deeply resource and support the needs of immigrant victims and survivors, refuse to liaise with ICE on individual cases, and fight to prohibit ICE agents access to our courts. Our district attorney needs to ensure that all people in our city, regardless of immigration status, are able to safely and adequately interact with the criminal justice system, as defendants and survivors, without fearing being torn away from their loved ones.
Dramatically increase transparency in the DA’s Office. For far too long, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has operated behind a veil of secrecy. Our new district attorney can show his commitment to transparency and accountability by releasing information quarterly on a public website, including all policies and procedures and data on every prosecutorial decision — charges filed, pretrial recommendations, bail requests, and plea bargains, with a breakdown by race and other key demographics.
These changes are just the beginning. From juvenile justice to LGBTQIA+ community support, we have deep hopes for many transformative policies we can accomplish together with Krasner and his team. Krasner’s decision to fire 31 prosecutors in week one demonstrates his commitment to changing the culture of the DA’s Office towards one that centers on healing and true justice. To enact the bold policies our city needs, we need prosecutors who align with Krasner’s vision, and we are encouraged by his determination.
Across the country, all eyes are watching to see what will happen when a civil rights attorney takes the helm of the District Attorney’s Office of Philadelphia. The most important eyes watching are all of ours, here in our shared home of Philadelphia. Let’s govern together, and make our city better by making it far more just.
Rick Krajewski is an organizer with Reclaim Philadelphia, and Erika Almiron is the executive director of Juntos. All are part of the Coalition for a Just District Attorney. The coalition represents over 20 organizations working on prison abolition, civil liberties, LGBTQIA+ justice, re-entry, racial and economic justice,immigrant rights, and more. A full list of member organizations can be found at phillydaforthepeople.org.