Manhattan’s newly elected chief prosecutor has ordered staff to quit seeking prison sentences for all but a few of the most heinous crimes
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has used his first memo since taking office to direct prosecutors to quit sending criminals to prison in many cases and downgrade charges for crimes such as armed robbery and drug dealing.
Prosecutors in New York City’s most densely populated borough must no longer seek a “carceral sentence” except in a handful of cases, such as homicide, rape and major economic crimes, Bragg said on Monday in the memo. He added that assistant district attorneys also must weigh the impact of their sentencing recommendations on public safety, barriers to housing, and racial disparities in incarceration.
Bragg joins a long list of district attorneys in major US cities who were elected with the backing of Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros, who reportedly donated up to $1 million to his successful campaign. And like other Soros-backed prosecutors, he’s trying to reform the criminal justice system by sending fewer people to jail and decriminalizing some lesser offenses.
This seems like a big deal. Newly elected Manhattan DA Bragg promises no prison time for any sentence except for murder and some violent felonies (plus white collar and government malfeasance). This is after trial and conviction. https://t.co/QgrNTFMahGpic.twitter.com/bqLuRK6CV3
— Peter Moskos (@PeterMoskos) January 4, 2022
But violent crime has surged under those policies in such cities as Chicago, which has just suffered its deadliest year in a quarter of a century, and Philadelphia, where homicides hit an all-time high in 2021. New York also has been plagued by a surge in violence, including murders and hate crimes targeting Asians.
Bragg also demanded leniency for the most egregious violent crimes, banning prosecutors from seeking prison sentences exceeding 20 years. “The office shall not seek a sentence of life without parole,” the DA said, barring a punishment that’s typically reserved for such heinous offenders as terrorists, serial killers, and people who rape and murder children.
And in many cases, Bragg’s office won’t even seek felony convictions, let alone prison terms. He ordered that charges be reduced to misdemeanors in such cases as armed robberies where a victim isn’t seriously injured, or drug dealing. He added that prosecutors also must consider the suspect’s circumstances, such as mental illness, homelessness, and poverty.
“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,” Bragg said.
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Police are already pushing back against Bragg’s reforms. “In Bragg’s Manhattan, you can resist arrest, deal drugs, obstruct arrests and even carry a gun and get away with it,” said Paul DiGiacomo, president of the New York Detectives Endowment Association. He added that by taking prosecution of many crimes off the table, the new DA “has made himself the police, the judge and the jury.”