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A New Day in the City of Brotherly Love

If you haven’t heard, the new district attorney of Philadelphia is a lifelong defense lawyer who used to sue the government for violating people’s civil rights. He even ran on a campaign against overcriminalization. It’s a pretty amazing thing.

Now the city’s top prosecutor has put his money where his mouth was during the campaign. Among other things, he’s announced new policies to reduce incarceration and bring balance to sentencing. And they’re pretty amazing, too.

I’ve summarized the new policies below, but you can read them yourself here. Prosecutors can make exceptions to them if they get approval, but their message is clear: your job is to do justice overall, not file the most cases, charge the most aggressively, win the most convictions, or pin the longest sentences on people.

  1. Stop charging pot use or possession, period.
  2. Don’t charge sex workers with prostitution anymore unless they have more than two prior convictions. Even then, refer them for special rehabilitative programs.
  3. Charge shoplifting as an infraction unless it’s over $500 or the person won’t stop. Even infractions can carry a sentence of up to 90 days in jail. But always seek restitution in full.
  4. Divert minor cases when appropriate. Consider pretrial programs that hold people accountable but also help them return to society by avoiding a conviction.
  5. Offer lower sentences in general. This doesn’t apply to violent crimes, sex crimes, and other serious crimes.
  6. State your reasons for a sentence on the record, including the financial cost of incarceration to the taxpayer.
  7. Relax parole or probation for some people so we can better focus on and supervise the ones who really pose a threat.
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