Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner testified before City Council on Wednesday as part of the city’s annual budget hearings. In addition to asking for funding for the next fiscal year, Krasner’s testimony served as a venue for him to share what he described as some early returns from his first year in office, including efforts to reduce reliance on incarceration and supervision, diversify his staff, and change the makeup of certain units in the office.
Here are five highlights.
Reducing prison and probation sentences
Krasner was elected on a pledge to curb mass incarceration, and one set of statistics he presented to Council offered a new window into measuring progress.
According to slides he showed Council members, defendants sentenced during the last three months of 2018 were ordered to serve an estimated total of 2,233 years behind bars — a 46 percent decrease compared with the first three months of 2014.
The estimated number of years defendants were ordered to serve on probation or parole also decreased by an estimated 53 percent over the same period, according to Krasner.
Judges, not prosecutors, impose sentences, and the city has been working for years on changing its criminal justice system. Still, prosecutors make sentencing recommendations, and Krasner last year unveiled an ambitious policy memo instructing assistant district attorneys in certain instances to seek lighter sentences and request shorter terms of probation.
Krasner said Wednesday that he believes continued and sustained reductions could lead to significant cost savings for the city — which caused Councilman Allan Domb to lift his arms in apparent celebration — though he cautioned the results would take time to materialize.
He also said that although police statistics have shown an uptick in homicides in recent years, his policies have come into effect as overall violent crime in the city — which includes murder, robbery, rape, and aggravated assault — has been decreasing.
Krasner said of efforts to reduce incarceration and supervision: “We can move mountains.... That is the significance. That is the impact.”
Recruiting for diversity
Last year, when he appeared before Council to make his funding pitch, Krasner said he needed more money to recruit a new set of prosecutors, punctuating his remarks by claiming that his predecessors had deliberately sought candidates from a limited pool of applicants and created a “Grade B District Attorney’s Office."
On Wednesday, he acknowledged that that remark — delivered just months after he fired 31 staffers — drew some pushback internally. But he also highlighted what he said were the fruits of a yearlong recruiting effort that included visits to law schools across the country.
According to slides Krasner presented to Council members, 40 percent of his new hires were diverse, compared with 30 percent of office staffers previously. And he said an incoming class of assistant district attorneys will be 55 percent diverse; a majority of the class will be women; and the class will include recruits from five of the six historically black law schools.
Krasner described the efforts to recruit new staffers as “our most important achievement," a way to better reflect the city’s demographics and create a group of prosecutors who might stay in the office for years or decades to come.
Expanding certain units
Krasner said he wanted to continue to add to the office’s technological capabilities, equipping attorneys with tablets to take into court and increasing the ability for his office to conduct DNA tests.
He also said he wanted to beef up his economic crime unit, which has recently investigated the proliferation of housing theft, and continue expanding the responsibilities of his conviction integrity unit — possibly to investigate instances of police potentially conducting illegal searches.
It comes at a cost
Overall, Krasner requested an additional $3 million for fiscal year 2020, or about a 7 percent increase over his office’s funding for this fiscal year. The request was not as large as the one he made last year, when he asked Council for a 13 percent increase.
Still, Krasner said that if his uptick is granted, much of this year’s request would go toward salaries and expanding investigative units, with a smaller amount dedicated to technology upgrades.
He told Council members that “we are about as fiscally responsible as we can be," and that he believed the office would continue to generate future savings by continuing to employ policies designed to responsibly reduce incarceration and supervision.
“The savings that are generated simply by doing your job better … are astronomical,” he said.
Support for supervised injection sites
Krasner answered several questions from Councilman Al Taubenberger on supervised injection sites — and came out in full-throated support.
He reiterated a stance he has expressed previously, saying he would not prosecute those who sought to responsibly operate or use such a site. But he expounded on his reasons why, saying he believes that such facilities are morally justified because they are designed to save lives amid a crisis claiming more than 1,000 lives per year, and that they are legally justified because the operators are seeking to prevent further harm to those in addiction.
That position stands in opposition to U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain, who has repeatedly called the sites illegal and in February sued to stop opening one in Philadelphia.
Krasner said he believed the sites were deserving of support in the midst of a “bona fide crisis.” After saying he would not use his office to intrude on a facility’s development or operation, he said, “I don’t know how I could do anything else.”