On Criminal Justice Reform: Studying Philadelphia's New, Reform-Minded District Attorney through a Historical Context

byAlexander de Arana

This curriculum unit examines the trends and attitudes that shaped today’s criminal justice system.  Students read and analyze key texts such as Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration and articles from The Philadelphia Inquirer to inform themselves of the rise of new, reform-minded prosecutors throughout several cities across the United States.  Students consider the role of the prosecutor in creating and addressing the problems of mass incarceration by studying the election of District Attorney Larry Krasner in 2017.  The origins of “tough on crime” attitudes, the War on Drugs, and the rise in incarceration rates during the 1990s are closely reviewed as they relate to the history of Pennsylvania’s and Philadelphia’s criminal justice systems.  At the end of this unit, students are required to engage in a dialogue that demonstrates their knowledge of the problem of mass incarceration by creating two podcast episodes.

Key Words:

Mass incarceration, criminal justice, tough on crime, War on Drugs, prosecution, district attorney, Larry Krasner, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration, The Philadelphia Inquirer, podcast

(Developed for Civics, Government, Politics, and Social Studies, grade 12; recommended for Civics, Government, Politics, Social Studies, Law, and Philosophy, grades 9-12)

Comments (1)

    Alexander William de Arana (William W. Bodine High School for International Affairs, Philadelphia, PA)
    Subject taught: Social Science, Grade: 12
    Update on Meek Mill
    Since the final draft of this unit was submitted for publication, hip hop artist Meek Mill\'s convictions on old gun and drug charges have been vacated by the Pennsylvania Superior Court. Not only did District Attorney of Philadelphia Larry Krasner support Meek Mill\'s appeal, but Krasner also endorsed the decision that was published by the judges stating that Meek Mill is eligible for a new trial. Ultimately, Meek Mill pleaded guilty for a gun possession charge with no further sentence. Krasner publicly stated that Meek Mill\'s case was an example of excessive punishment, excessive supervision, unfair procedures, and questionable integrity. Krasner used Meek Mill\'s case to demonstrate how people can evolve. He also used this opportunity to recognize that cities and sometimes (criminal justice) systems also need to evolve.

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