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Krasner's next move: Costing out prison sentences

Philly prosecutors should only ask for prison if it's really worth $42K, Krasner says.
DA Larry Krasner (Courtesy of Philly DA's Office/Facebook)

In the latest move that Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner claims will go toward fighting mass incarceration, he is now ordering his prosecutors to consider and state on the record how much prison time will cost when recommending sentences to a judge.

"It's the easiest thing in the world to say, 'Three years!' or 'Five years!' or 'Two years!' as if this is some kind of sports event, as opposed to what it should be, which is a very careful effort to bring about justice," Krasner said at a news conference announcing the new policy Thursday, at which he stressed that each year in prison costs about $42,000 to $60,000 in Philadelphia. "That is a considerable amount of society's resources. That is a decision not to do other things with that [money]." 

"Place the financial cost of incarceration on the record as part of your explanation of the sentence recommended," stated a memo Krasner sent out to assistant district attorneys, which noted one year of prison is equal in taxpayer dollars spent to one year's salary for a police officer, fire fighter, teacher, social worker, addiction counselor or an assistant district attorney. "A return to lower rates of incarceration for those defendants who do not require lengthy sentences is necessary in order to shift resources to crime prevention."

Krasner previously directed prosecutors to stop seeking cash bail in certain low level offenses.

The policies announced Thursday also ask prosecutors to not request more than one year's probation for most cases. Krasner's memo claims criminological studies have shown most people who violate probation do so within the first year, and noted that in Philly, 44,000 people are already on probation, "which makes supervising people who are more likely to commit serious crimes more difficult."

Despite these steps, Krasner said prosecutors will still be supported in asking for sentences of up to 25 years for defendants convicted of "heinous" crimes involving violence or sexual assault, even though, he estimated, it will cost around $1,050,000.

He disagreed with suggestions that crime victims may feel undervalued by the policy.

"Speaking for myself, as the victim of having been slashed in the face with a blade about 10 years ago and having my home burglarized twice … I think, as a victim, I would have felt supported and vindicated at the idea someone wasn't just getting a year or five years or two years or some amorphous thing that seemed free," Krasner said. "I think I would have felt vindicated, knowing that society was willing to spend what is ultimately a pretty enormous amount of money making sure that this wouldn't happen to others, and it wouldn't happen to me again."

Read the full memo below:

Finalized Memo Mar. 13, 2018 by Slate magazine on Scribd