PHILLY DA OFFICE FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST BIG PHARMA for OPIOID EPIDEMIC
Larry Krasner Sues Big Pharma, Drops All Marijuana Possession Charges
by Joe Trinacria / 2/16/2018
“On the same day a Philly.com op-ed was published in which Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner (and Mayor Kenney) admitted the failure that was the “War on Drugs,” in the 1980s and ’90s, the DA’s office announced that it is suing 10 pharmaceutical companies in connection with the opioid epidemic and is dropping all outstanding marijuana possession charges.
In just a little over a month since taking office, Krasner has already built on the progress that began under former mayor Michael Nutter’s administration by further reforming the city’s drug policy to the point where getting busted with pot now no longer means a court date is in your future. Krasner says citations are issued approximately 90 percent of the time someone is caught with marijuana. “What we’re talking about is the 10 percent or so that are being charged as they used to be, as misdemeanors in court,” Krasner said during a press conference Thursday. From now on, the DA will advise his staff not to pursue criminal charges against anyone arrested for marijuana possession in the city. Citations currently range from $25 for possession to $100 for those caught toking up in public. “I did it because I felt it was the right thing to do,” Krasner said when asked of his motivation. “We could use those resources to solve homicides.”
Philly’s fatal overdose rate is worst in the nation among large cities. I applaud Opioid Task Force and City leadership's actions to encourage private-sector development of Comprehensive User Engagement Sites (CUES). This bold action will help save lives. https://t.co/7UUnwLjIEI
— Jim Kenney (@PhillyMayor) January 23, 2018
Additionally, the DA’s office said that it had filed a lawsuit on February 2nd against Big Pharma under Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Laws for their alleged role in creating the city’s opioid epidemic. The defendants are Purdue Pharma, L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.; Allergan Finance, LLC; Cephalon, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions, Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; and Johnson & Johnson. “The City of Philadelphia has been hurt, more than any other city in the nation, by the scourge of opioids,” Krasner said in a release. “The time to act is now, which is why I’ve taken this unprecedented action, in parallel with the City of Philadelphia’s suit, to stop these companies from systematically distracting the public from knowing the true dangers of opioid use as they reap billions of dollars in profits.”
DEMANDS PROSECUTORS JUSTIFY EXACT SENTENCING COSTS
Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner Promises a Criminal Justice Revolution
by Shaun King / March 20 2018
“When lifelong civil rights attorney Larry Krasner was elected in a landslide this past November to become the new district attorney of Philadelphia, to say that his fans and supporters had high hopes would be an understatement. Anything less than a complete revolution that tore down the bigoted and patently unfair systems of mass incarceration would be a severe disappointment. Across the country, talking the talk of criminal justice reform has gotten many people elected as DA. Once in office, their reforms have often been painfully slow and disappointing. Krasner was the first candidate elected who publicly committed not just to intermittent changes, but a radical overhaul.
So far, having been in office less than three months, he has exceeded expectations. He’s doing something I’ve never quite seen before in present-day politics: Larry Krasner’s keeping his word — and it’s a sight to behold. In his first week on the job, he fired 31 prosecutors from the DA’s office because they weren’t committed to the changes he intended to make. “Change is never easy, but DA Krasner was given a clear mandate from the voters for transformational change,” his spokesperson said at the time. “Today’s actions are necessary to achieve that agenda.”
Next, Krasner obeyed a court order to release a list of 29 officers from the Philadelphia Police Department that were on a “do-not-call list” — meaning that they were so tainted that they would be considered unreliable as witnesses. The police officers on the list had either been charged with crimes or found responsible for misconduct in internal police probes conducted by the department’s Board of Inquiry. Among the offenses, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the police officers had lied to their fellow investigators, filed false reports, used excessive force, driven drunk, and burgled.
— Philly We Rise (@phillywerise) February 1, 2018
After that, Krasner’s office made it clear that he would not oppose rapper Meek Mill’s release on bail. Krasner’s office said in a motion that it was likely Mill, who was arrested almost 10 years ago on drug and gun charges, would win an appeal on his original case. (Mill is in jail for minor probation violations.) The sole officer who testified against Mill is Reginald Graham, who is not just on the list of unreliable cops, but was reported by a former police officer to have lied under oath to put Mill behind bars.
All of that is big, but nothing is as essential and revolutionary as the internal five-page guiding document of new policies that Krasner sent to his staff. While the document appears to have been sent to the staff of the Philadelphia DA’s office on February 15, 2018, it only became public a week ago. I study prosecutors for fun and for a living. I’m that type of guy. (Separately from my work at The Intercept, I help run the Real Justice PAC, which supports progressive candidates in DA races across the country. Real Justice endorsed Krasner before I joined, and the views expressed here are my own and not related to Real Justice’s work.)
I’ve never seem anything like this document. It’s a dream come true for those of us who’ve been fighting our hearts out for justice reform for years. Check out the document for yourself. I’ll amplify some of the highlights, but it’s best read in its entirety. The first sentence says it all: “These policies are an effort to end mass incarcerations and bring balance back to sentencing.”
Then, under the heading “Decline Certain Charges,” Krasner immediately instructs prosecutors to stop prosecuting marijuana possession regardless of the weight. Furthermore, he instructed prosecutors to stop charging those with marijuana with any paraphernalia crimes. Next, Krasner instructed his prosecutors to stop charging sex workers that have fewer than three convictions with any crime and drop all current cases against sex workers who also fit that description. All sex workers with three or more convictions are to be referred to Dawn Court – a special diversionary program created in 2010 specifically for sex workers with repeat offenses, the first of its kind in the nation.
Under the heading “Divert More,” Krasner then instructed prosecutors to avoid convictions if possible and guide cases for diversion programs instead of jail and prison. What Krasner’s memo said next was groundbreaking. First, Krasner instructed prosecutors to stop the wide-ranging practice of beginning plea deals with the highest possible sentencing and instead, begin those plea deals at the bottom end of the available range of time that can be served. And when less than 24 months is available as a sentence for a crime, house arrest or diversion programs should be used instead of incarceration.
It’s what came next that genuinely shocked me. I’d like for you to read it. It’s on the third page of the memo, under the heading “Sentencing.” Krasner instructed his prosecutors to now add up and justify the exact costs of every single person sentenced to a crime in Philadelphia. Stating that the city is currently spending an astounding $360 million per year to jail around just 6,000 people, Krasner then gave examples of all of the things that such money could be doing in the city currently. Stating that it costs between $42,000 and $60,000 per year to incarcerate a person, he reminded the prosecutors that the average total family income of a person in the city was just $41,000. The annual cost of incarceration, Krasner reminded his prosecutors, was currently more per year than the beginning salary of teachers, police officers, firefighters, social workers, addiction counselors, and even prosecutors in his office.
Krasner wrote, “If you are seeking a sentence of 3 years incarceration, state on the record that the cost to the taxpayer will be $126,000.00 (3 x $42,000.00) if not more and explain why you believe the cost is justified.” Krasner then closed out his document with five new policies changing the harsh probation rules in Philadelphia. It’s these very policies that functioned as a trap for Meek Mill. First, Krasner requested that people either be given no probation after incarceration or no more than a 12-month probationary period. Mill has spent an outrageous 10 years on probation — a five-year term was extended several times due to various violations — dating all the way back to when he was a teenager. Now, as a grown man, nearly 10 years later, he is being held in jail for violating that probation.
Other policies aimed at drastically reducing the length of the probationary periods focused on the fact that, according to Krasner, Philadelphia currently has over 44,000 people on probation. That’s an impossible number to manage. What’s more, the ranks of those on probation are bloated by nonviolent people who shouldn’t even be in these programs. More serious cases end up being harder to track and follow. From time to time, transformational leaders take office. They show everyone else exactly what can be done and how to do it. That’s Larry Krasner right now – and he’s showing the nation how to dismantle mass incarceration from the inside out.”
PRISONER FAMILIES ORGANIZE VOTING BLOC
How prisoners organized to elect a just DA in Philly
by Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall and John Bergen / November 8, 2017
“…Twenty years ago, radical black prisoners in the State Correctional Institution Greene, a super-max prison in rural southwest Pennsylvania, started the Human Rights Coalition, or HRC — a radical new model of advocacy for human rights in criminal justice reform. Distinguishing itself from the old paternal/liberal model — which put professional “advocates” in charge of decision-making — prisoners voted on all major decisions. This model built on the legacy of the National Prisoners’ Rights Movement established by George Jackson in California, and represented a historically significant shift in ideals, organization and actions during the age of Bill Clinton’s “three strikes” law and reign of Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, also known as “America’s Deadliest DA.”
Over the past two decades, the HRC has sown the seeds of criminal justice reform in the city of Philadelphia and throughout the state of Pennsylvania. The HRC has also inspired the formation of several other prisoners’ human rights organizations in Philadelphia. Prisoners who were leaders in HRC joined the advisory boards of local and national organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee, Decarcerate PA, Families and Communities United and Reconstruction, Inc. They then encouraged their family members and loved ones to join community organizations as rank-and-file members to ensure their voices were heard. Prisoners at State Correctional Institution Graterford, in particular, organized a political action campaign in Philadelphia that saw their families and communities influence the 2015 Pennsylvania Supreme Court judicial elections, resulting in a clean-sweep of Democratic justices being elected to the state’s Supreme Court.
Earlier this year, the community organizations’ spokespersons were able to contact the candidates and explain that SCI-Graterford prisoners are 5,000 in number and have an average of five family members who will vote for the candidate of their choice. That means a potential 25,000-strong voting bloc. That number of potential voters compelled El-Shabazz to campaign at SCI-Graterford on four occasions. Krasner also scheduled a campaign event at SCI-Graterford, but prison officials cancelled the event, claiming they had not been given enough notice. After the primary, Graterford prisoners were able to reschedule Krasner’s visit. Speaking to several hundred prisoners, he unequivocally adopted their proposed criminal justice reform agenda.
As a result, according to leaders of organizations in the prison, Krasner earned the overwhelming support of the incarcerated men at SCI-Graterford. His impeccable record and reputation of being a civil rights attorney for the people of Philadelphia also made him the candidate of choice for multiple prisoners’ organizations, such as Right to Redemption (an organizing group focusing on ending life-without-parole sentencing, or what they call Death By Incarceration), the Latin American Cultural Exchange Organization (representing Latino lifers) and the Grey Panthers (representing elderly prisoners)…
After discussing which candidate would best represent the collective interests of prisoners and their communities in society, Graterford prisoners reached a general consensus that Krasner would be their candidate of choice. Prisoners supported Krasner’s candidacy with a robust political action campaign of voter education, voter registration, political forums, and get-out-the-vote drives directed towards their families, loved ones, friends and returned citizens…
Held together by the convening organizations and a deep belief that they could all benefit by working together, the group — calling itself the Coalition for a Just DA — kept pushing, bringing in more groups and widening the table. Organizations flooded the city, coordinated door-knocking efforts, mobilized people who wouldn’t have otherwise voted, and hosted a large forum where candidates were grilled by people directly impacted by policing, incarceration and “crimmigration” (the intersection of immigration policy and the criminal legal system)…
In meetings with insiders, the coalition learned that moderate Democrats from around the country were interested in helping Krasner if he won. So, they responded by becoming more bold. Groups directly impacted by youth incarceration, the bail system, crimmigration, policing, Death By Incarceration sentences, and other issues got together and drafted in-depth policy proposals. Prisoners contributed directly to a number of these proposals. The coalition then articulated a set of demands for the first 100 days in office for the new district attorney and presented both candidates with a list of what could be done on day one…
Prisoners mobilized a base — their family and friends — that is often disconnected and disenfranchised from politics, showing that winning isn’t necessarily predicated on co-opting centrists. It can also be done by organizing people who aren’t normally involved in the election process to vote as a bloc. That’s why last night 147,666 people voted for Krasner, as compared to just 89,238 votes for the Democratic candidate in 2013. This campaign can be a blueprint for other prisoners, their families and community groups to wage a grassroots radical criminal justice reform campaign. By organizing alongside prisoners, recognizing the possibilities of mobilizing new constituencies, and keeping the focus on building inclusive coalitions and winning real change, radicals can get practical and win.”
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