Stop Fearmongering About Progressive Prosecutors and Decarceral Policies
Larry Krasner’s clear win in the Philadelphia District Attorney primary election should have been a wake-up call to journalists who spent weeks breathlessly painting the race as a referendum on progressive prosecutors and their decarceral policies. Instead, they doubled down, redirecting their fearmongering to other cities. This reckless reporting needs to stop.
Journalists must stop recklessly reporting on progressive prosecutors and decarceral policies:
- Stop speculating that progressive prosecutors and decarceral policies are to blame for rising crime. In “Can a Progressive Prosecutor Survive a 40% Spike in Homicides?”, The New York Times connected Krasner’s electability to the 2020 spike in homicides, despite acknowledging in the same piece that “[c]riminologists said it would be impossible to substantiate the claim that Mr. Krasner’s policies had led to more gun crime.” They were by no means alone.
- Stop mindlessly transcribing the rants of police unions and prosecutor associations hoping to scare voters back into supporting the failed policies that created mass incarceration and bloated police budgets. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd gave perhaps the starkest example of this practice when she basically turned her column over to former police commissioner Bill Bratton to spew baseless allegations and promote his new book. In Dowd’s “Ex-Commish With the Dish,” readers were treated—without challenge—to his continued support for heavily criticized policies of the past, including stop-and-frisk, broken-windows policing, and the 1994 crime bill.
- Stop perpetuating the false narrative that progressives are weak on crime and their opponents have the right answers. Voters are showing they know better. The Washington Post’s recent article, “With Violent Crime Spiking, the Push for Police Reform Collides with Voters’ Fears,” pointed to Krasner’s race and the special election for Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland’s former congressional seat as tests of voter tolerance for reform. Both Krasner and Democrat Melanie Stansbury defeated opponents who sought to exploit their commitment to reform by roughly 2-to-1.
Progressive prosecutors and their decarceral policies have not caused crime spikes:
- Last year’s increase in homicides happened across the United States—including in cities with carceral prosecutors and sheriffs. For example, one of the biggest spikes in homicides was in Fort Worth, Texas, where District Attorney Sharen Wilson and Sheriff Bill E. Waybourn have held office for years. Both are self-described “tough-on-crime” Republicans. And despite the country’s overall increase, the homicide rate is still historically low.
- Actual studies of progressive prosecutor decarceral policies have consistently demonstrated no correlation to a rise in crime. A study of Krasner’s bail policy, for example, found “no change in failure-to-appear in court or in recidivism, suggesting that reductions in the use of monetary bail can be made without significant adverse consequences.” A study backed by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s non-prosecution policy for nonviolent misdemeanors reduces the occurrence of future crimes. And Baltimore State’s Attorney Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced this year that she would continue the non-prosecution policies she adopted during the pandemic after finding that nearly all categories of crime decreased in the city.
- The New York Times followed up on its Philadelphia story about Krasner with one about Los Angeles, asking whether “liberal leaders” could continue to pursue decarceral policies, given the rise in homicides. But, even within that report, the Times acknowledged that both criminologists and law enforcement “largely blamed” last year’s homicide spike on “a historic increase in gun-buying by Americans … and the despair and economic devastation of the pandemic.” The piece made no mention of Republican obstruction of meaningful gun control legislation or insufficient government support for those struggling with the pandemic’s devastation.
- Wins For Larry Krasner and New Allies Signal Reformers’ Growing Reach. Progressive gains in Philadelphia’s primaries for judge and DA showcase a movement intent on taking over broader swaths of the criminal legal system.
- The Carceral Force of Prosecutor Associations, Explained. While prosecutors routinely deflect criticism by claiming that they merely enforce, and do not make, the law, their professional advocacy groups work the halls of state houses across the country, often advocating harsh, punitive criminal justice policies that enhance the power of prosecutors.
- Media Frame: Stop Quoting Bill Bratton. For far too long, the press has leaned on wrong-headed tough-on-crime officials like the former NYPD commissioner when reporting on the criminal legal system.