The Next Test for Bail Reform: Prosecutors


By Teresa Mathew

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner was elected last November on a platform for change. In the earlier primary of seven Democrats who ran to be the city’s prosecutor, all pledging to reform the criminal justice system, he was the most politically progressive. The question was: Could he succeed where others have failed?

Last week Krasner took his first significant step toward that goal, and for many activists it’s a promising one. He announced his office would no longer seek cash bail when charging defendants with 25 different crimes, including prostitution, retail theft, and trespassing. Reducing reliance on cash bail—the system by which people who can’t afford to pay are held in jail while they await trial—has been one of the top priorities of reform-minded prosecutors and other criminal justice reform advocates.

A growing number of cities and states have taken significant steps to alter their cash bail systems. But Krasner and, a month earlier, the Manhattan district attorney, appear to be the first DAs in major cities to attempt reform through the prosecutor’s office (in Massachusetts, the Middlesex District Attorney announced a similar policy earlier this year). Krasner took this step with the very direct support of his constituents: Three weeks earlier, Philadelphia’s City Council passed a resolution calling on Krasner and city officials to end money bail.

As bail reform marches forward—both in Philadelphia and across the country—the questions now are whether Krasner’s move will be effective, and what other changes may follow from it. Many activists for criminal justice reform say the directive is promising, but will depend on accountability mechanisms, and a cultural shift within the criminal justice system.

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