March 28, 2018
Every day, Philadelphia judges are deciding the fate of criminal offenders by trying to strike the right balance between public safety and fairness.
Now, District Attorney Larry Krasner is asking his prosecutors to share with judges another variable: the cost of incarceration.
The move is igniting a debate about whether the price tag of punishment belongs in courtrooms.
“Fiscal responsibility is a justice issue, and it is an urgent justice issue,” said Krasner at a press conference recently.
The former civil rights lawyer and consummate outsider — who came into office vowing to trim the city’s overburdened prison system — views this controversial proposal as part of fulfilling that promise.
In Philadelphia, he said, the typical cost of holding someone behind bars is about $42,000 a year.
And housing all of the city’s prisoners will cost Philadelphia’s Department of Corrections $2.4 billion for fiscal year 2018.
These weighty numbers should help balance a judge’s scale in crafting the most appropriate punishment, Krasner said.
So now, if a prosecutor recommends that a defendant convicted of aggravated assault be imprisoned for four years, the prosecutor is instructed to tell the judge the taxpayer cost of that lockup: more than $160,000.