Philadelphia district attorney Larry Krasner has presided over a surge in violent crime, and his new policy promises more of it. Krasner recently announced plans to de-prosecute crimes for offenders aged 18 to 25, ignoring how this age group tends to contain the most violent of criminal defendants.
Krasner’s office has established a new unit that will move some 18-to-25-year-old defendants into “rehabilitative programming” instead of seeking criminal punishments. As Krasner’s data dashboard demonstrates, “rehabilitative programming” is just a euphemism for dismissing charges. Krasner promises that the program will be limited to nonviolent offenses, including drug trafficking and other offenses. (The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that gun crimes will not be included, but Krasner has previously stated that prosecutions for illegal gun possession are “not only ineffective but unjust and racially discriminatory.” The link in the district attorney’s office data dashboard about Philadelphia’s Gun Violence Task Force takes the reader to a page that states “Article Not Found.”)
This new program reflects Krasner’s determination not to think like a prosecutor, but instead to think like the criminal defense lawyer he was. The program was developed by Sangeeta Prasad, a fellow with the district attorney’s office who previously served as a public defender in New York, New Mexico, and Philadelphia. Before assuming her current post, she had no prior experience as a prosecutor, just like Krasner. The chief public defender for Philadelphia has called the new unit “an incredible initiative,” but Philadelphia courts were not invited to the press conference announcing the plan and stated that they were not aware of the experiment.
The new initiative comes at an awkward time. In 2021, Philadelphia experienced the highest number of homicides in its history, and the violence is continuing in 2022. Indeed, Philadelphia homicides have risen every year that Krasner has been in office, as carjackings, shootings, and drug overdoses soar. What makes the policy more bizarre is that it runs counter to decades of criminological research. One of the iron laws of criminal conduct is the so-called age-crime curve, which demonstrates that the majority of serious crimes are committed by defendants between the ages of 15 and 25. This finding obtains around the world and has been replicated time and again.
The logic of Krasner’s plan recalls Miller v. Alabama, a 2012 Supreme Court case that held mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles convicted of murder to be unconstitutional. Part of the reasoning for that decision was that adolescent brains are still developing, leaving defendants with less impulse control. The brain, justices noted, continues to develop until about the age of 25. Yet that decision was strictly limited to defendants under age 18 who had been found guilty of homicide and still faced decades in prison. In contrast, Krasner’s plan will create a sort of floating immunity for adults up to age 25 for whatever crimes he deems unworthy of being punished.
Krasner is not alone in this perverse logic. The Savannah, Georgia, district attorney’s office, led by self-proclaimed progressive Shalena Cook Jones, is creating a program to dismiss gun charges for defendants up to 25 years of age. Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, the top prosecutor for Virginia’s Arlington County, is touting a program to dismiss misdemeanors and felonies for defendants up to age 26.
Criminals are rational actors. Gangs often use juveniles to sell drugs or carry guns, knowing that they will face minimal criminal punishments. When 18-to-25-year-olds realize that they can deal drugs on the streets of Philadelphia with impunity, they will do so. And when they start wandering around the city strapped with firearms and arguing over drug territory, more carnage will be the inevitable result.
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