District attorneys used to brag about how many criminals they threw behind bars. An increasing number boast of how many they kept out of prison. Sounding more like liberal activists and civil rights lawyers than traditional hard-nosed DAs, “progressive prosecutors” are seeking to transform criminal justice systems, the Los Angeles Times reports. Progressive prosecutors have been elected in often-contentious contests in Philadelphia and in Houston, Chicago, Tampa, Boston and Durham, N.C., among other places. In June, progressives took down incumbents in two populous counties in Washington, D.C.’s northern Virginia suburbs. Los Angeles voters could weigh in next year if the progressive San Francisco district attorney of San Francisco, George Gascon, challenges incumbent Jackie Lacey.
The new-style prosecutors are seeking to end mass incarceration, eliminate cash bail, divert more defendants into drug treatment programs, eradicate the death penalty and reverse wrongful convictions. “The old policies don’t just break individuals, many of whom did not need to be broken, they break communities and they break cities for a whole host of economic and social reasons,” said Larry Krasner, who became Philadelphia DA in 2017. Critics, who include police chiefs, police unions, conservative legislators, judges and the Trump administration, contend the new policies will lead to more crime. “Philadelphia doesn’t have a prosecutor,” says U.S. Attorney William McSwain in Philadelphia. “The city has a public defender with power.” He said homicides rose eight percent and shootings seven percent during Krasner’s first 18 months in office. Krasner’s supporters say violent crime is down seven percent in that same period. Krasner called McSwain a “liar,” and former prosecutors in his office “war criminals.” He waded into national politics, urging liberals not to back former Vice President Joe Biden, whom he considers too moderate.