Most county, city, and state district attorneys across Washington and the country were former prosecutors. Prosecutors represent the state by trying defendants for the crimes they’ve been charged with violating. It’s the rare exception for a public defender to be elected as a district attorney. Yet, in Philadelphia, former public defender and civil rights attorney Larry Krasner was elected as the city’s district attorney, and he just won his primary fight for a second term.
The selection of a public defender, especially a progressive defender like Krasner, is so rare that Krasner is the subject of a PBS series called “Philly DA.” According to the Los Angeles Times, Krasner’s work as district attorney is leading to all types of culture and practice changes that serve as a model of how law enforcement in Vancouver, Battle Ground, and other Washington locations could operate. The reforms that are being instituted by Krasner and other progressive district attorneys across the country are the subject of current focus as America reckons with concerns about policing nationwide.
Ending cash bail for many low-level crimes
There are many changes that progressives are trying to change the criminal justice focus. At the top of many progressive prosecutor’s lists is the end of cash bail.
According to NBC Philadelphia, Krasner ended the requirement of cash bail for offenders who will appear in court, aren’t a flight risk, and aren’t a threat to the community. The end of cash bail generally applies to many misdemeanors. Prosecutors generally must identify which criminal charges will no longer require cash bail.
Many poor defendants, such as those who qualify for a public defender, can’t raise any cash at all. The imposition of cash bail means the defendant is jailed until his/her trial. Staying in jail is problematic/unfair for many reasons:
- The defendant may be innocent.
- The defendant’s length of incarceration prior to trial may be more than any sentence that is likely to be imposed.
- Defendants are much better able to prepare their defense if they are released from prison than confined to prison.
- Our jails are overcrowded as it is, and eliminating cash bail would reduce the population and its associated expenses.
Some locations such as New Jersey and Washington, DC have largely ended the cash bail requirement, and it’s time for Washington State to do the same. KOMO News reported in November 2020 that “The Washington State Auditor said 72 percent of an average daily population in jails statewide could be eligible for release without bail if there was a less restrictive alternative.” That’s a lot of people, and releasing them to their own homes is a good first step for justice reform.
Ceasing to prosecute juveniles as adults
There’s a major difference between trying a minor as an adult as compared to trying the minor as a juvenile. The goal of criminal prosecutions of adults is largely punishment and then deterrence. The goal of juvenile hearings is to find ways to rehabilitate the juvenile so the juvenile won’t commit further offenses and will be focused on a more stable life. When we try juveniles as adults, we’re saying we’ve given up on those kids, and that they don’t deserve a chance for a better future. Using diversion programs to help with the rehabilitation process is more humane, less expensive, and better suited to young offenders.
What other reforms are progressive district attorneys are working to implement?
Other reforms include:
- Focusing on rehabilitation instead of incarceration.
- Refusing to file charges for possession of marijuana.
- Refusing to prosecute sex workers.
- Reducing the length of criminal sentences and probation. Progressive prosecutors often argue that minimum criminal sentences should be sought in less serious criminal offenses.
- Requiring that prosecutors explain how much each prison sentence will cost the taxpayers, as opposed to the cost of preventative social services and diversion programs.
- Firing prosecutors who are more concerned with embellishing their conviction record instead of serving the public.
- The opening of safe-injection sites to combat the increasing number of drug overdoses
Additional types of criminal justice reform
According to Criminal Justice Programs, criminal justice reform also includes:
- Addressing prison overcrowding. Nearly 2.3 million Americans are incarcerated. Another 5 million Americans are on probation or parole. That means that about 1 in every 31 adults is likely to be imprisoned.
- Decriminalizing many offenses such as drug offenses.
- Changing food assistance program polices.
- Changing the voting rights of previous offenders.
- Addressing racism in the criminal justice system. “According to the Pew Research Center, in 2016 the racial demographics were as follows:
- African Americans represented 12% of the US population, but 33% of the prison population
- Caucasians accounted for 64% of the population, but only 30% of those in prison
- Hispanics held 16% of the nation’s population, but over 23% of prison inmates”
At Philbrook Law Office, our criminal defense lawyers in Vancouver, WA and Battle Ground, WA understand the unique challenges facing defendants who are charged with criminal offenses. We fight aggressively to suppress evidence that was illegally obtained, to dismiss cases, and to obtain acquittals before a jury of your peers. We hold the prosecution to its high burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In many criminal cases, we use our experience and ability to argue your rights to obtain reductions in the charges through the plea bargain process. As soon as you’ve been arrested, you need the help of a skilled strong criminal defense lawyer. To discuss the criminal charges against you, call our offices at 360-695-3309 or use our contact form to discuss your case.