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February 16, 2018

Spotlighting how local district attorney elections have become focal point for criminal justice reform advocates

BnwxbIoIgAAVLkBThis notable NBC News piece, headlined "Criminal justice reformers aim big by targeting local DA races," reports on how greater modern attentiveness to the role of prosecutors in the criminal justice system is now leading to greater modern concern for who gets elected to these positions. Here is how it gets started:

If you can’t win big, go small. That’s the strategy gaining momentum among criminal justice reformers in the age of Trump, as the federal government hardens its approach to law enforcement.

Instead of pouring money and energy into squeezing change out of Washington, national civil rights organizations are teaming with local groups to push their agendas in county-level district attorney races, where a few thousand votes can determine who asserts the most influence over the local justice system.

Picking their targets carefully, and crunching election data to influence pivotal voter blocs — and benefiting from the largesse of liberal billionaire George Soros — these crusaders have already racked up big wins, most recently in Philadelphia, where civil rights lawyer Larry Krasner was elected chief prosecutor last year.

Using Krasner as proof that their strategy can work, the American Civil Liberties Union, Color of Change and like-minded political action committees are now fixating on several 2018 races, with Dallas at the front of a list that could also include Baltimore; Charlotte, North Carolina; Los Angeles; Oakland, California; San Diego and St. Louis, as well as parts of Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Oregon.

Each will involve teams of campaign strategists and targeted voter-education drives, from public forums to digital advertising, and the hiring of formerly incarcerated men and women to canvass neighborhoods, asking voters to demand that candidates pledge to curb mass incarceration — and to cast ballots for those who agree. In some cases, political action committees will steer donations to campaigns that embrace their vision. In others, reformers are recruiting upstart candidates.

“We want to send a clear message that these are the real issues and the litmus test in the election, and to demonstrate the public demand for it,” said Scott Roberts, a senior campaign director at Color of Change, which organizes online campaigns focused on ending injustices against African-Americans. “We can put out a press release, but the candidates, the people who are trying to get votes, will respond on a deeper level when they’re hearing about it from people as they are out campaigning.”

This is a new development in American politics, where district attorney races have rarely attracted outside attention, let alone intense interest from voters. Incumbents usually run unopposed, research has found. And when they do face opposition, they usually win, with races focused on the candidates’ character and experience, or controversial cases, rather than discussions of policy.

“That conventional wisdom has been turned on its head,” said David Alan Sklansky, a professor at Stanford Law School who studies prosecutors and how they wield power. “In a growing number of races, people have defeated incumbents by running on platforms that are very policy heavy. They’re not calling for more punishment, but more sensible policies,” from police oversight to criminal sentencing.

The trend began about five years ago, when Ken Thompson defeated longtime Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes. Since that 2013 election, self-described reform candidates have taken office in Chicago, Denver, Houston, and Orlando, Florida, and in smaller jurisdictions in Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas. Many were lifted into office by outcries over police shootings, wrongful convictions or the disproportionate numbers of poor people and minorities behind bars.

The movement has been supported by new research into the causes of the three-decade rise in prison populations, which peaked in 2009, long after crime began to decline. In his 2017 book, "Locked In," Fordham University law professor John Pfaff blamed prosecutors, “the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system,” for driving drastic increases in felony cases, all but a tiny fraction of which result in plea bargains. Those locally elected prosecutors, Pfaff wrote, are rarely held accountable by voters for their decisions.

But Pfaff also documented how reform candidates have started to challenge that narrative. Some have received donations from political action committees connected to Soros, who heads the Open Society Foundation. Some have received tactical help from national reform groups like the ACLU and Color of Change. But others haven’t, which Sklansky takes as evidence that the movement has been driven from the bottom as much as from the top.

February 16, 2018 at 11:01 AM | Permalink


Reformers? No. Soros. Yes. Soros spent $2 million to get Krazy Krasner nominated by the Democrats, over a very good female candidate. She had been a prosecutor and not a public defender extremist, attacking the police, siding with Black Lives thugs blocking traffic, and defending cop killers to the bitter end.

This is just foreign interference, yet there is no call for a special prosecutor from the left wing, biased, and unethical press.

Krasner will likely take credit for any drop in crime. The most likely cause of the drop are the 1500 opioid overdose deaths in Philadelphia a year. Imagine the death penalty ridding us of that many a year. Each will not commit 200 crimes a year, and neither will any of the children they will not have, into eternity.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 16, 2018 12:24:23 PM


Lenient sentencing by 'rat judges.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 16, 2018 7:04:10 PM

The ACLU’s campaign in California claiming to educate voters on the District Attorney and the criminal justice system is particularly dishonest.


Posted by: David | Feb 16, 2018 10:14:35 PM

Such a wonderful party the Democrats have:


Posted by: federalist | Feb 17, 2018 1:13:38 PM

Philly is an extreme case; their system is corrupt beyond belief. I bet the city has at least 100 innocent people serving murder convictions right now. Furthermore, I bet in most of those cases, police and/or prosecutors KNEW AT THE TIME. Someone like Krasner was sorely needed to try to turn things around.

The same is true of a few other big cities; Baltimore and Chicago come to mind.

But outside of those places, I doubt the strategy is likely to work.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Feb 17, 2018 9:02:01 PM

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