Seth Williams, Philadelphia’s new district attorney, says he is eager to get advice from criminologists about how to fix a “broken criminal justice system.” Williams, elected Tuesday, spoke yesterday to the American Society of Criminology in Philadelphia. As an assistant prosecutor, Williams was bothered by the focus of the district attorney’s office on a case-by-case approach and sought out criminologist Lawrence Sherman of the University of Pennsylvania for help in analyzing whether the agency overall was doing its work in a way that was likely to reduce crime.
Williams has concluded that prosecutors should do more than merely handle cases in court. “The number one crime prevention tool is a high school diploma,” he says, supporting efforts to take stronger action against truancy. Williams, the first elected African-American chief prosecutor in Pennsylvania, advocates community prosecution. He vowed to reassign prosecutors to concentrate in high-crime neighborhoods. Williams is replacing Lynne Abraham, the Philadelphia district attorney since 1991.