Switching Sides

BY DENISE CLAY – PHILADELPHIA SUNDAY SUN

For most of the last 30 years, those who have worked in Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s office have viewed defense attorney Lawrence Krasner as the opposition.

Now, he wants to be their boss.

After an extensive career as a defense attorney, Krasner is among the Democratic candidates in the running to be the City of Philadelphia’s next District Attorney. Krasner began his career as a public defender in Philadelphia in 1987. In 1991, he went to the Federal Public Defenders office before deciding to strike out on his own in 1993, with a focus on police brutality and criminal defense.

Krasner is a partner in the law firm of Krasner and Long LLC and a graduate of the University of Chicago and Stanford University School of Law. He sat down with the SUN to talk about his vision for the District Attorney’s office, how politics has taken the “justice” out of the justice system, and why the prosecutor’s office needs a defense attorney.

SUN: Thank you so much for your time today, Mr. Krasner. As a career defense attorney, it’s a little unusual that you’ve decided to run for District Attorney. What made you decide to do it?

LK: I decided to run for District Attorney because I’ve been in court four or five days a week for the last 30 years watching this DA’s office make things worse instead of better in almost every way. It’s been running in the wrong direction.

For the last 30 years, the culture of the DA’s office has been committed to demonizing all criminal defendants and has pandered to fear. It’s dehumanized people who were arrested and brought into the system, subjected them to unjustifiably high charges, has refused to use diversion in cases where it makes sense and seeks the absolute max in all convictions. It’s not law enforcement. It’s politics.

SUN: When you say that it’s not about law enforcement, it’s about politics, what do you mean?

LK: I mean that the current way that the DA’s office is run is based on a vengeful impulse that bankrupts public education and breaks people and communities that don’t need to be broken. After people have spent time in jail, they go back to a broken community because no one has done anything to improve it. It continues the cycle of poverty.

Let’s get concrete. The number of state prisoners in Pennsylvania has increased seven-fold since the 1970s. In Philadelphia, the statistics are even worse and every one of those jail cells represents an unnecessary cost. To put someone in jail costs as much as it does to pay an entry-level public school teacher, about $40,000.

Full interview in THE PHILADELPHIA SUNDAY SUN