Where Seth Stands

Philadelphia's criminal justice system is fundamentally broken, making every neighborhood less safe and wasting tens of millions of dollars annually at a time when the city and state face unprecedented financial strain.

The facts are as clear as they are stark:

  • More than half of the felony cases pursued by the District Attorney's Office are dismissed at preliminary hearings, including one-third of all gun cases;
  • Homicide is the leading killer of African-American men under the age of 35; and
  • Prison costs went up 69 percent from 2000 to 2008 - despite the fact that 60 percent of detainees are waiting for disposition, but can't afford bail.
  • The shortcomings of the District Attorney's Office have a devastating impact on our community. The criminal justice system has become a revolving door, with the worst criminals released back into our neighborhoods and funds that should be spent bettering our community wasted.

    In order to achieve the goal of a safer city, the District Attorney's Office must work more effectively with its partners in the criminal justice community, and most importantly, the citizens of Philadelphia.

    If elected District Attorney, Seth Williams, the most qualified and experienced candidate, will implement a 10 part plan to fundamentally improve the way prosecutors work with the police, the courts and the community. The highlights of his plans are below.

    Assign a Prosecutor to Every Neighborhood
    Seth will put prosecutors where crime is and where arrests are processed: in Philadelphia's 24 police districts and seven detective divisions. With a team of prosecutors assigned to each district and each detective division 24 hours a day, seven days a week, these community prosecutors can connect the dots between offenders, victims and neighborhoods while coordinating their efforts with police to reduce local crime rates. Most of all, these prosecutors can focus on where crime occurs and how to prevent it. When police and community prosecutors identify repeated crime patterns, they can work together to break the cycle of crime. They can close down illegal businesses, target open-air drug markets and use "sting" operations to catch repeat offenders in the act. Seth will focus prosecution on patterns of crime, not just one case at a time.

    Focus on the Most Dangerous Criminals
    The tragic murder of Philadelphia police officers shows the urgent need for a new prosecution policy. Seth's policy would rearrange the priorities of the District Attorney's 300 prosecutors, placing far greater emphasis on getting the most dangerous criminals in Philadelphia off our streets. His policy will use the most resources for prosecuting defendants with prior convictions for weapon offenses, as well as other previous convictions and arrests that indicate an extremely high level of dangerousness. It would shift the prosecutorial focus from the crime to the criminal, from the seriousness of their most recent charge to the seriousness of their overall criminal record. Even if a dangerous offender's most recent address is for shoplifting, a preexisting "red flag" on that offender will trigger a massive investigative effort by the District Attorney's Office and police to prepare the strongest possible case so that:

    • dangerous offenders are fast-tracked for speedy prosecutions,
    • plea-bargaining will be reduced,
    • the District Attorney's Office can argue for the longest sentence possible, and
    • Philadelphia can stop using guesswork and start using advanced, computerized forecasting to identify the most dangerous people in each day's list of arrests.

    Get Guns Off Our Streets
    Philadelphia's murder rate remains higher than per capita rates in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Most of our homicides are committed with handguns carried illegally on our streets. While state laws limit any city's ability to reduce the number of guns in private ownership, they empower local law enforcement to prevent people from carrying guns in public places without a permit. This allows Philadelphia police to make thousands of gun arrests each year, many of which are referred to Gun Court. Tests in Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Indianapolis show that even more can be gained from additional police focus on the people who carry guns illegally. Currently, many arrests for illegal gun carrying are thrown out because of technical errors in how police conduct "stop and frisk" procedures under Pennsylvania's complex case law. As District Attorney, Seth will work with police in every neighborhood to train them how to comply with the strict letter of the law in decided who to frisk, why, where and under what procedure. By making more gun cases stick, Seth will encourage young men to leave their guns at home and not carry them on our streets.

    Improve Teamwork with Police and Probation Officers
    With a prosecutor in every police district and detective division, we can develop a wide range of partnerships between police and prosecutors. Police and prosecutors will conduct enhanced investigations to support the arrests of dangerous criminal suspects, increasing the chances of conviction and imprisonment. Prosecutors will train police in the law of "stop and frisk" to get guns off our streets. Prosecutors will coordinate with police on undercover surveillance of the most active repeat offenders, a program which has led to the arrest and conviction of more than half of targeted dangerous criminals in Washington. Seth will partner with juvenile and adult probation officers to expand the use of unscheduled home visits and street contacts with high risk probationers and parolees, searching them for illegal guns or any other behavior or substance that violates the condition of their probation. By partnering with, and not just criticizing, other agencies, Seth will be able to prevent crime.

    Protect Witnesses from Violent Retaliation
    There can be no justice in Philadelphia as long as witnesses and victims are subject to intimidation and threats. As District Attorney, Seth will seek both a national and state initiative to protect witnesses. The national initiative will be to have the U.S. Marshal Service provide a limited number of witness protection "alias program" packages for each county proportionate to the annual number of murders in each county. Seth will work hard with the U.S. Department of Justice to make this initiative a reality. At the state level, Seth will seek legislation admitting videotaped testimony by witnesses under oath, with cross-examination, as evidence at trials. Once such testimony is taken and preserved, it will reduce the incentive for offenders to commit further crimes and risk further punishment. Without the power to prevent courtroom testimony through the killing or threatening of a witness, intimidation and retaliation will decrease.

    Help Young Men Say "No" to Crime
    The most important partnership Seth will have as District Attorney will be with a range of programs that help nonviolent first-time offenders say "no" to crime. One program, "Back on Track," is a nationally acclaimed initiative begun by the San Francisco District Attorney and Goodwill. "Back on Track" is limited to adults without weapons offenses and is mostly used by low-level drug offenders. Once suspects agree to participate in "Back on Track," they receive job training and placement, union-based apprenticeships in the building trades, GED preparation, high school GED work or college, help navigating financial aid, child care, anger management and parenting support. During their probationary period, participants must perform 120 hours of community service and must be fully engaged in employment readiness activities. During the one-year program, participants develop Personal Responsibility Plans outlining their objectives. Participants are provided support services to ensure that they have the tools necessary to reach each objective, and each participant must appear before a "Back on Track" judge every two weeks to report their progress. After graduation from the program, Goodwill provides participants with an additional year of job retention and placement support services.

    Prosecute Drug Offenders in Drug Court
    Seth will prevent crime and save tax dollars by prosecuting more offenders in Drug Court. Drug Court defers prosecution if offenders are willing to undertake drug treatment and is more punitive than some rehabilitation programs while remaining less expensive and potentially harmful to the community than sending minor drug offenders to prison. Seth will work to increase the number of cases brought to Drug Court, where offenders are given a carrot-and-stick incentive to enter and complete drug treatment programs. Drug Courts have proven effective as a deterrent to repeat offenses and less expensive than alternatives.

    End Prison Overcrowding
    Nearly 10,000 people are currently in jail at the expense of Philadelphia taxpayers, even though most have not been convicted of a crime. Seth will make the District Attorney's Office the primary source of leadership in the effort to reduce overcrowding in Philadelphia's prisons. Seth will partner with the Defenders' Association to seek early alternatives to prosecution for what criminologists deem "super-safe" offenders, those with minimal criminal records. He will partner with judges to establish a system for immediate hearings for suspects arrested with "detainers," or orders to keep them in jail because they have failed to meet their probation officer or failed to pay their fines. Most detainer hearings result in suspects' release, but many are delayed for weeks at great taxpayer expense. Prison guards were paid more than $35 million in overtime last year due to prison overcrowding. Though little of that cost provided any benefit to public safety, it did cost taxpayers even more in fines from federal courts for the violation of prisoners' human rights. Prison overcrowding has plagued our city for the last three mayoral administrations, but the mayor does not have the tools necessary to sensibly solve the problem. Rather than building more expensive prisons, we need a District Attorney who will lead.

    Help Crime Victims Heal
    The most neglected people in the criminal justice system are victims. Our legal process excludes victims from speaking out in court except as witnesses. Our system denies victims from publicly expressing the pain their attacker has caused them. It prevents victims from asking the attackers questions required for healing, such as "Why me? Why did you pick my house? My car? My purse?" It prevents victims from receiving the sincere apology they deserve. It excludes them from deciding how their attacker might repair the harm they've caused. As District Attorney, Seth will offer victims a new process, one that has been extensively tested with robbery, assault and burglary victims in London and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. "Restorative Justice Conferencing" allows victims who request it to meet - under police or prosecutorial supervision - with their attackers, as well as their respective family and friends. Restorative Justice Conferencing in London has reduced repeat convictions by an average of 27 percent and has reduced post-traumatic stress symptoms among victims. Because Restorative Justice Conferencing has shown to have the greatest benefit for women, including reduced heart disease from chronic post-crime stress, Seth will make the program a priority for female victims of violent crimes.

    Appoint a Chief Performance Officer
    As President Obama said in his inaugural address, "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works. Where the answer is 'yes,' we intend to move forward. Where the answer is 'no,' programs will end." President Obama plans to create the first Chief Performance Officer to regulate the effectiveness of the entire U.S. government. For the same reasons, Seth will create the first Chief Performance Officer (CPO) for the District Attorney's Office. The CPO will report to the District Attorney with evaluations of each unit of prosecutors and advise how to best allocate Philadelphia's 300 prosecutors. The CPO will identify the strengths and weaknesses of each unit, comparing their dismissal and conviction rates and proposing ways to improve performance. The CPO will calculate the repeat offending rates of each prosecutor and place even more emphasis on crime prevention as the District Attorney's primary mission. The District Attorney and CPO will hold weekly reviews, or "DA-Stat," in which unit chiefs will discuss the crime problems they are facing and how well their team is dealing with those challenges. The CPO will increase the District Attorney's ability to be "hands-on" and treat the 600 employees in the District Attorney's Office as team, rather than a group of disconnected lawyers. By creating the CPO position to track the success of the first nine of Seth's policy initiatives, he will receive early warnings on what programs aren't working and where to find the greatest success. From community-based prosecutors to the Repeat Offenders Unit, these policy initiatives will only work if they are relentlessly monitored. The CPO will ensure that when policy becomes reality, it's more than just a plan.

    Fight Municipal Corruption

    As a former Inspector General, Seth is uniquely qualified to fight corruption and help reform the culture of corruption that has too long been prevalent in Philadelphia. As District Attorney, he will build on relationships he developed as Inspector General with investigators to create a multi-agency task force to root out corruption. Seth believes that no one is above the law, and as District Attorney, he will: lead by example, create a dedicated municipal corruption unit, establish a "whistleblower hotline" for the public, create and meet annual performance measures and ban political activity by D.A. staff.

    Protect Consumers

    Seth believes that the District Attorney has a responsibility to not only protect the physical safety of Philadelphia's residents and visitors, but also to protect them against unscrupulous and predatory business tactics. As District Attorney, Seth will aggressively use the tools at the District Attorney's disposal to not only stop these practices, but to put such companies out of business. Seth will use Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (CPL) to protect consumers that have been victimized by predatory business and, if appropriate, move to permanently shutter those businesses in Philadelphia. Seth believes that protecting consumers is not just part of his responsibility as District Attorney, but also part of his responsibility as a community leader.

    Implementation of these programs is vital to Philadelphia's growth and restoration of public confidence in the criminal justice system. Failure to act aggressively in the cause of change will doom the city to more of the same: high crime rates, low public opinion and the flight of taxpayers to the suburbs.

    It is within the power of the District Attorney to change the way our system deals with criminals: to become smarter on crime, not just tougher. With the help of its partners in law enforcement, and the support and cooperation of Philadelphia's citizens, the next District Attorney can make our city a better place to live, work and raise a family.