The role of progressive prosecutors in the criminal justice reform movement

Larry Krasner, a civil rights attorney with a long history of suing the District Attorney’s Office drew national attention when he won the election for Philadelphia’s District Attorney in 2017 on a platform of decarceration and increased funding for social programs. Now, Sandra Mayson, a professor of law, and Dana Bazelon, a lecturer in law and senior policy advisor for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, are using Philadelphia as an apt lens through which to teach students about the complicated laws and policies pertaining to progressive prosecutors and their place within the broader movement for criminal justice reform.

A close up to the an ornamental scale in an office with law books on shelves behind it.

In Mayson and Bazelon’s course, Criminal Justice Reform and the Progressive Prosecution Movement, students will engage in discussions related to policies that prosecutors wrestle with on a daily basis, such as how (or if) to prosecute low-level crimes, when pre-trial detention is (or is not) necessary, and how (or if) the law should approach mental illness and substance abuse.

Throughout the semester, students will be asked to read, listen to, and watch multimedia content from some of the most prominent thinkers in the contemporary criminal justice reform movement. The assignments span mainstream cultural media, law review articles, and cutting-edge empirical studies. Among them are Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” the Harvard Law Review’s 2020 special issue on prison abolition, which features a forward by Dorothy Roberts, the George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights,” episodes of the PBS docuseries “Philly DA,” and selections from the popular podcast “Serial.”

In addition to immersing themselves in course materials and participating in discussions, students will also hear from a range of guest speakers and spend time observing court proceedings in Philadelphia. As a final project, each student will be required to complete research that contributes to an ongoing area of criminal justice reform.

Read more at Penn Law News.