Early last week, newly sworn-in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg sent a memo to staff in which he briefly recounted his personal experiences with the inadequacies and inequities of New York City’s criminal justice system, before announcing changes to prosecutorial policy aimed at fixing them.
“Data, and my personal experiences show that reserving incarceration for matters involving significant harm will make us safer,” Manhattan’s first Black district attorney emphasized. The top prosecutor went on to instruct staff to cease charging petty, low-level crimes—subway fare evasion, marijuana misdemeanors, prostitution and resisting arrest, among them—and to seek bail and jail time only in cases involving violence, sex abuse, and major financial offenses. Prosecutors should also ask for “no more than a maximum of 20 years,” Bragg advised, directing staff overseeing the most extreme cases to consider restorative justice as an alternative to simply tacking on years to sentences.
“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 concluded, adding that “while my commitment to making incarceration a matter of last resort is immutable,” the policies he had identified would continue to be shaped by discussion and practice.