The “progressive prosecutor” movement has defied its obituaries because it embodies a growing public anger over mass incarceration, says Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.
Krasner, who was decisively re-elected this week despite a well-organized opposition campaign, said his victory and the continued strength of other reform-minded prosecutors demonstrates the staying power of the popular movement for justice reform.
“The election results speak for themselves―it’s stunning,” Krasner told a webinar organized by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College Thursday.
“If the progressive prosecutors became a political party, they would be outdoing the Democrats and Republicans every damn day.”
Krasner said that the reform prosecutors comprised about 20 percent of the nation’s DAs; but the comparatively small percentage concealed the fact that they represented the bulk of the nation’s urban jurisdictions.
“Two years ago, 10 percent of the United States (population) lived in a jurisdiction where there was a progressive prosecution,” Krasner said. ”That’s about 30-35 million Americans. Right now, 20.1 percent of the United States―70 to 75 million Americans― live in a jurisdiction where there is a progressive prosecutor.
“And those prosecutors (reflect an) influence even greater than that, because so many of them are in big jurisdictions.”
Krasner, a former defense attorney, has instituted measures to reduce or eliminate jail terms for nonfelony crimes that triggered furious opposition from police and legislators who say he is endangering public safety.
But Krasner argues that his electoral strength reflects a long pent-up desire for radical change that national and local politicians ignore at their peril.
“Criminal justice reform is inextricable from saving democracy,” he said.
“When you have criminal justice reform on the ballot, whether it’s a some kind of ballot measure or it’s something legislative, or it is a candidate for sheriff or a candidate for district attorney, or for Mayor, you see tremendous turnouts of unlikely voters, never-voters or brand-new voters.
“They finally have an issue that affects their lives.”
Krasner said the strength of his reelection victory—he captured 67 percent of the vote―reinforced his conviction that authorities needed to be more determined in efforts to reduce mass incarceration.
“You have to focus on state court, because approximately between 90 percent to 95 percent of all criminal cases are in the in state courts,” said Krasner, who claimed that his efforts so far have “cut in half the years of incarceration generated by Philadelphia County courts.”
He said similar progress had been made in reducing juvenile detention and community supervision, which he called the “on ramp” to mass incarceration.
“We are simply the lawyers, the technicians who have been selected by a movement to do what they want,” he said.
What Americans want more and more is to end “the crushing weight of mass incarceration,” he continued.
“What happens when you become the most carceral country in the world is almost everybody’s been to high school with somebody who ended up in jail too long or, or dated somebody or a friend or a co worker, or knows the grandmother or somebody down the street.”
Krasner said national politicians should take note of what progressives were saying.
“I wish the president I voted for―Joe Biden―would get it, because then we wouldn’t be losing Virginia, then we wouldn’t be almost losing New Jersey, it ain’t that hard,” he said.
“You have to actually put issues that people can vote on that affect people’s lives.”
Krasner was speaking at a two-webinar series for journalists, entitled “Rethinking the American Way of Punishment,” organized by the Center for Media Crime and Justice―publisher of The Crime Report―with support from Arnold Ventures.