Anyone who paid attention to his campaign for district attorney last year saw Larry Krasner promising to bring a very different approach to prosecution.
While many embraced the shift in priorities for the office, not everyone was happy with the radical approach to change Krasner promised. In fact, this editorial page endorsed his opponent, criticizing Krasner’s lack of prosecutorial experience.
But less than three months after being sworn in, Krasner is shaking up his office in ways we can — and do — support.
Assistant district attorneys have new marching orders in court. Krasner has instructed them to start negotiations for plea bargains in some criminal cases at the low end of the punishment spectrum. Previously, ADAs started at the high end to establish leverage in the deal.
And Krasner has told prosecutors to spell out the estimated costs to the city for incarcerating each defendant, a new factor for judges to consider during sentencing hearings.
Krasner is also keeping his promise to pull back on requiring bail for people accused of nonviolent crimes. This practice previously helped fill city jails with people simply because they were unable to afford the cost to be free as their cases wove through the complicated and often delay-stymied justice system.
Here, pragmatism mixes with the progressivism Krasner campaigned on. Addressing the problem of mass incarceration by scaling back the use of cash bail was a goal for the city, made real through a $3.5 million grant in 2016 from the MacArthur Foundation. In fact, in the first year the city reduced the number of inmates in its jails by 12 percent. Krasner’s policies should help continue to move the needle.
Reducing incarceration has a major impact on the social and economic health of the city and its communities. It’s also an issue of basic fairness for impoverished defendants.
Krasner also joined the ranks of city and state officials — including state Attorney General Josh Shapiro — in suing large pharmaceutical companies accused of helping to spark the opioid crisis that is killing people here and across the country. Krasner did that in February, shortly after dropping criminal charges in 50 marijuana possession cases.
While Krasner’s early actions have drawn plenty of scrutiny — to say nothing of criticism when he dragged his feet for 30 days before releasing the names of longtime prosecutors he had fired — it’s also worth remembering that he had few significant policy disagreements with the six Democrats he defeated in the primary election. In many ways, the Republican nominee Krasner bested in the general election was also on board with criminal justice reform.
Krasner made a key claim as part of a promise during his campaign. He said 6 percent of the criminals in Philadelphia commit 60 percent of the serious crimes here. And he vowed to deal with them. It’s too soon to judge him on how that goes.
In all, Krasner is off to a good start. Disruption is not a orderly process. But this is what he promised. And this is what we’re getting.