Overview of the District Attorney’s Office
- The District Attorney’s Office prosecutes all crimes within the county of Philadelphia
- The District Attorney’s Office has a staff of 600, consisting of Assistant District Attorneys, District Attorney Detectives, paralegals, victim/witness staff, IT professionals, HR, secretaries, and security guards.
The District Attorney is the elected prosecutor of Philadelphia
- In smaller municipalities, the elected District Attorney takes on all responsibilities of prosecution, which include approving criminal charges and arguing on behalf of the Commonwealth in court.
- Because of Philadelphia’s size, the District Attorney requires an office of supporting Assistant District Attorneys “to assist him in the discharge of his duties”.
- However, the District Attorneys in Philadelphia have not tried cases in court in recent history. Contrary to the intended role of the DA, the position has veered away from actual administration and involves itself much more in the world of politics and activism. However, the DA has no legislative power and cannot draft or implement new laws.
- The DA can guide prosecutors on how to effectively interpret state law and can be conservative in liberal in how those laws are applied to local criminal cases. For example, the DA can make prosecutors hold more or less decertification hearings (in which juveniles are judged by a Grand Jury to be tried as adults or not); they can disapprove of the death penalty and make sure that prosecutes are not seeking it; they can interpret new laws like the “Juvenile Lifer” issue either liberally or conservatively, so that either all Juvenile Lifers will be subject to the same sentencing guidelines or each one will be judged individually, though within the constraints of PA state sentencing laws
Despite being a “blue” city, Philadelphia has a history of tough on crime policies that have led to high incarceration rates.
- It should be noted that the city incarceration rate has increased exponentially over the past decade, peaking in 2008 with a prison population of almost 9,000, even though crime rates have been steadily dropping since the late 1990’s. So what caused the increase in incarceration rates?
- One major factor has been the implementation of diversion courts, which allow offenders to partake in alternative punishment programs, such as drug treatment or community service. Most of these diversion programs require the offender to remain on probation for at least a year.
- Of the 9,000 inmates incarcerated in 2008, 5,900 were probation violators.
- No evaluation of probation violation and incarceration rates has been performed, however there sees to be a strong causality between diversion programs and higher rates of incarceration.
Here is the Philly crime rate from 1999-2008
And here are the corresponding prison population and arrest rates
It is important to be aware of these issues because all of the DA candidates are pushing for major criminal justice reforms which are obviously needed; however, previous attempts to divert nonviolent offenders away from prison seem to be backfiring, and we need to prioritize practicality and efficiency over idealist and improbable policy change.