When researchers examined arrest data from 1997 to 2008, a third of all young adults and almost half of all African-American men had arrest records by age 23. Yet most arrests are for low-level crimes like disorderly conduct, public drunkenness and drug possession. Nevertheless, America's 18,000 police agencies arrest about ten and a half million people every year.
Despite the obvious momentum for criminal justice reform demonstrated in the recent election and the potential passage of the First Step Act, many prosecutors around the country continue to engage in harsh, "tough on crime" tactics. One exception who bears watching is Larry Krasner, the elected district attorney for Philadelphia.
District attorneys are among the most influential actors in the criminal justice system. They decide where to focus prosecutorial resources. They determine whether to charge the most serious provable offense or lesser offenses. They choose whether to stack charges, and whether to choose charges carrying harsh, mandatory minimum sentences. They decide what to offer in plea negotiations, and whether to threaten additional charges against uncooperative defendants.