An ‘acceleration of reform’ from Philadelphia DA in response to coronavirus outbreak

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — "An acceleration of reform" is how the Philadelphia district attorney is outlining his plan for the city during the coronavirus outbreak. He wants less people arrested, charged and jailed. 

District Attorney Larry Krasner wants Philadelphia police to “use discretion” when arresting people who they believe committed a crime and to “prioritize” dangerous offenses, but falls short of describing said bad acts. 

“We are hopeful that the Philadelphia Police will change arrest patterns in order to ensure only truly dangerous offenders are taken into custody and that the prison system is not stressed beyond what it can bear,” Krasner said in a statement. 

Krasner says for those charged with violent felonies and “other truly serious offenses,” there should be no bail or an equivalent of no bail held. There is no legal definition, but often such crimes include shootings, rapes and aggravated assaults. 

“Defendants charged w/ violent felonies & other truly serious offenses should be held in custody with the equivalent of a ‘held-without-bail’ status”....“Defendants charged w/ non-violent felony & misdemeanor offenses should not be held pre-trial for any amount of cash bail”

— Kristen Johanson (@KristenJohanson) March 16, 2020

There is an automatic no bail for murder charges.

But he also orders prosecutors not to ask for any cash bail for those charged with non-violent felonies, like burglaries or drug offenses, saying that such people should not be added to the jail population.

And he says prosecutors should work with public defenders to review early parole and release for defendants who don’t pose a public safety threat or may have a health condition that could put them at a health risk.

When asked if gun charges were considered a violent offense, spokeswoman for the DA Jane Roh responded, "Shootings are considered violent, obviously. Mere unlawful possession will be determined on an individualized basis using all available information and histories." 

In a statement, The Defender Association of Philadelphia says they are working with others in the justice system to “ensure public safety while reducing arraignment court workload and the jail population.”

That includes public defenders working “with judges looking to release non-violent offenders by filing emergency motions for release on a basis of health and other reasons,” the Children and Youth Justice unit working on the release of juvenile offenders with Family Court, and working with the Prisons Department to “release clients on low-level bail.” 

The organization’s office will be closed March 17 to April 1. The district attorney’s office will be open only for some staff members.