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District Attorney Larry Krasner is Transforming Justice in US Prisons

The former lawyer has exonerated the 10th person falsely imprisoned for murder in Philadelphia since taking up his position a year ago.

25.10.2019 | by Christy Romer
Photo on philly.com
Photo on philly.com

When Larry Krasner was sworn in as district attorney in Philadelphia last year, he made what seemed like a typically grandiose campaign promise: to change an “off the rails” office with a “movement for criminal justice reform.”

But, looking at his list of achievements since January 2018, you’d be hard pressed to disagree. North Philadelphia man Willie Veasy’s acquittal earlier this month of murder—27 years after he had been imprisoned for the crime—was the 10th time that a similar case had been reversed since Krasner took office.

“Innocent people shouldn’t be sitting in jail cells,” Krasner said after the ruling at a news conference, as quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s not that hard. The system should be just. It should be fair.”

The drive has come from Krasner’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which has an expanded remit to examine inmates’ claims of wrongful convictions and reverse unjust sentences. It has assessed 200 cases in 22 months, finding that five percent of those cases — equal to 10 people who had been wallowing in prison for crimes they didn’t commit — were sullied by “fundamental errors.”

 

 

“We are reviewing these cases extremely carefully,” Krasner added. “We are not trying to play politics with these cases. We are not trying to be on any side. We are simply trying to complete our obligation, which is to seek justice.”

This quest for justice has not gone through smoothly: There are reports of judges pushing back against attempts for exonerations, essentially asking him, “Who are you to come in and try to undo what we’ve been doing for years?”

Krasner’s role involves overseeing around 600 employees, in what the Inquirer describes as “one of the busiest prosecutors offices in the nation.”

When he took office, human rights champion Krasner also promised to end the use of the death penalty and to try to end the use of cash bail. Given his record so far, it’s not impossible to think that he’ll go some way towards achieving that.

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