Manhattan’s new district attorney has instructed his 500 prosecutors to seek jail or prison time only for the most serious of offenses unless the law requires otherwise, The New York Times reports.
In an internal memorandum, Alvin Bragg instructed staff to seek jail or prison time for murder, robbery, sexual assaults, and economic crimes that involve large sums. Bragg campaigned on seeking alternatives to incarceration while maintaining public safety, the Jan. 6 article noted.
These modified criminal justice policies mirror those of other prosecutors around the country: Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, Marilyn Mosby in Baltimore, Kim Foxx in Chicago, George Gascon in Los Angeles, and the recently recalled Chesa Boudin in San Francisco.
Opposition to these policies comes mostly from conservative critics and law enforcement groups. The Detective’s Endowment Association said that the policy changes would “undermine the ability of the police to make arrests that lead to reduction of crime.” The group represents 5,000 police detectives in the city.
Bragg gave this response on Twitter: “These policy changes not only will, in and of themselves, make us safer; they also will free up prosecutorial resources to focus on violent crime and bigger cases that make us safer.” He said that he would not tolerate prosecutors who don’t support his policies.
Some prosecutors say that the impact of these policies may be mitigated because sentencing requests must adhere to law, which in New York requires that persons previously convicted of a felony must return to prison if convicted of another such crime, said the Times.
Tess M. Cohen, a former Manhattan drug crime prosecutor and now a defense lawyer, said that Bragg’s policies suggest that he intends to intervene in the lives of first-time offenders by “not letting them go, but letting them go into a program that will address the reasons why they committed this violent crime.”
Alice Fontier, the managing director of the neighborhood defender service of Harlem and a member of Bragg’s transition committee, said that arrests in Manhattan usually result in far harsher prosecution than if the same crime had taken place in the Bronx. She called Bragg’s policies a necessary corrective.
The article says that in November 2021, Manhattan accounted for more than 30 percent of incarcerated persons held at the Riker’s Island jail complex while the borough has about a fifth of New York City’s population. Official data also report a disproportionate number of the state prison population coming from Manhattan.
Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner said that Bragg would undoubtedly encounter resistance, both from within the district attorney’s office and from outside institutions. He added that there exists “some confusion and resistance to change, even among people who are operating in good faith.”