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For the last three decades, Larry Krasner has seen America’s criminal justice system take its toll on prisoners — all at exorbitant cost to taxpayers.

“[I had] been in court for 30 years before I got silly and decided to run for DA,” Krasner, the district attorney for Philadelphia, said in an interview. “It was like watching a slow-motion car crash for 30 years. Watching mandatory sentencing. Prisons filling up. Money being taken away from public schools for 30 years. I simply got to the point in my late 50s where I’d had enough. And I just decided that I had to try to do something else.”

Philadelphia’s top prosecutor argues that too many have used the DA’s office as a springboard for their political ambitions. But Krasner, who won office in a blowout electoral victory in 2017, wants to use his post to right social wrongs.

“DA’s offices have been used as political devices to get elected DAs to higher office so they can become senators or so they can run for president,” Krasner said. “And so it hasn’t been an office that functioned in the interest of justice. It’s been an office that functioned in the interest of advancing the career of the elected DA. That is the root of the problem that has led to our mass incarceration... all this money wasted that could’ve gone to much more important things.”

Pennsylvania spent more than $2.1 billion on prison expenditures in 2015, according to a paper from the Vera Institute of Justice, which put the average cost per inmate at $42,727.

To put that price into context, the average starting salary for a teacher in Pennsylvania was $41,901 as of the 2012-2013 school year.

“These are incredible amounts of money that are worth it for people who need that kind of appropriately lengthy sentence,” Krasner said. “But so many of the people in jail flat out don’t need it. And they would not have gotten it in the 1970s, before we got drunk on mass incarceration. That money belongs in teachers, it belongs in police officers, it belongs in social workers, it belongs in firefighters, it belongs in job training, it belongs in all the things that heal society. It does not belong in more and more jail cells.”

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner makes his case against mass incarceration in a video op-ed for Mic. Watch it above.

Anthony Smith
Senior writer