Guest Commentary: DA’s Office Releases Report on Racial Disparities in Philly’s Criminal Legal System

DA Larry Krasner – photo courtesy of the DAO

By the Philadelphia DA’s Office

Philadelphia, CA – The District Attorney’s DATA (District Attorney’s Transparency Analytics) Lab on Monday released a report showing that stark racial disparities persist both within and outside the criminal legal system in the city of Philadelphia – known throughout the history of the nation as the birthplace of American democracy, a stronghold of abolitionist and anti-slavery organizing, and one of the most racially diverse but residentially segregated major cities in the country.

“Racial Injustice Report: Disparities in Philadelphia’s Criminal Courts from 2015-2022,” was researched and written by the DA’s DATA Lab with the guidance of Rev. Gregory Holston, a senior advisor to District Attorney Larry Krasner for policy and advocacy. While it is generally understood by the public and press that Black people, brown people, and impoverished people are over-represented in the criminal legal system, the 2023 Racial Injustice Report analyzes data and outcomes that are only accessible to criminal legal system partners in order to provide the public with a transparent accounting of how systemic racism and economic inequality continue to present in – and are compounded by – policing, incarceration, and the criminal courts.

“Over the past five years, this District Attorney’s Office in concert with law enforcement and external partners have worked to end mass incarceration and mass supervision, with an overarching goal of ending discriminatory and unjust practices within the justice system. While cutting the city’s jail population in half in less than a decade is remarkable progress, the DATA Lab’s new report shows glaring racial disparities persist in Philadelphia communities and criminal courts to this day,” DA Larry Krasner said. “Black people continue to be overrepresented in arrests and in the populations of Pennsylvania jails and prisons. In order to realize our long-held dream of strong democratic institutions with equal access to justice and liberty for all people, we must acknowledge the extent to which structural racism and the vestiges of white supremacy are baked into our country’s legislative and law enforcement practices. We cannot fix what we don’t measure. The data in this report measures racial disparities so we can all work together on how to fix those disparities that are racist.”

The DAO Racial Injustice Report provides an overview of the racist origins of the American criminal legal system, local highlights of which include 18th century expansion of the penitentiary model of incarceration in the nation’s earliest prisons. Social isolation and cruelty toward prisoners in the name of rehabilitation were eventually discarded and renounced in Philadelphia, as can be seen in the shuttering of Eastern State Penitentiary, which today operates as an educational historic site. Unsafe and inhumane conditions in detention facilities persist today, however, as was evident in the operational failures that allowed two individuals to escape from the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center in May.

Another Philadelphia contribution to mass incarceration noted by the Racial Injustice Report: A Philadelphia professor’s introduction of “super predator” into the political and public lexicon, which stoked sensationalized media reporting on crime, Black children, and children of color that continues to harm communities today.

The report goes on to examine how structural racism and deprivation of marginalized communities manifest in Philly’s criminal courts, jails, and prisons. Among the key findings:

While DA Krasner’s policies have helped to reduce disparities in supervision and probationary sentences, large racial disproportionalities remain in Philadelphia’s court system.

From 2015 to 2022, Black defendants in Philadelphia were charged at disproportionately higher rates relative to other groups in seven of the eight most common criminal charge categories.

Even when accounting for prior criminal record and illegal firearm charges, Black and Latinx individuals in Philadelphia who are convicted of aggravated assault or burglary are more likely to receive sentences of incarceration than white individuals convicted of the same crime.

Latinx individuals convicted of possessing drugs with intent to distribute (PWID) in Philadelphia are more likely to be sentenced to incarceration than Black or white defendants, even when comparing defendants with no prior record and no illegal firearm charges.

“The Racial Injustice Report is one of the most important reports that this District Attorney’s Office has ever released,” senior advisor Gregory Holston said. “For the first time, from my knowledge, the DA’s office has documented the racial disparities in every level of the criminal legal system and has challenged itself, criminal legal institutions, and society as a whole to work together moving forward to root out intentional and systemic racism in the criminal legal system, which continues to oppress and suppress the Black and brown community. Please read this report!”

The release of the report also coincides with enhanced data available for public download. The DATA Lab’s work to reconcile defendant race data across multiple agency databases has enabled the release of new open data sets for public analysis, increasing transparency into the system. Moving forward, all of the data available for download on the Public Data Dashboard will include the defendant’s race, and work will continue to incorporate race data into the interactive dashboard reports so that it is more readily accessible to the community.

“Over the course of this analysis, we found difficulties with the data available to answer fundamental questions about racial justice,” DATA Lab analytics director Wes Weaver said. “Philadelphia justice agencies record very few racial categories, and it is unknown how many arrested individuals are accurately identified or are allowed to self-identify. Each agency’s systems rarely share data and these limitations restrict our capacity for analysis, obscure our understanding of diverse experiences in the criminal legal process, and hinder our collective ability to act. By releasing this report and making the data available for download on our public dashboard, this office is taking greater responsibility for the information gaps that plague the entire system. Consulting with impacted communities to improve data quality and accessibility is a crucial first step towards implementing fair, data-driven policies that reduce racial inequality.”

Over the past year, senior advisor Holston and the DATA Lab engaged internally with prosecutors and staff as well as externally with justice leaders, city residents, and academic reviewers as part of the research and writing of the Racial Injustice Report. Community organizations such as Ceiba, a coalition of non-profit groups serving Latinx people, facilitated outreach and solicited feedback to inform the report’s findings.

Joining DA Krasner and DAO staff for the Juneteenth release of the Racial Injustice Report at Eastern State Penitentiary were community and justice leaders including Councilmembers Kendra Brooks (At-Large) and Jamie Gauthier (3rd District); Will Gonzalez, executive director of Ceiba; Robert Saleem Holbrook, executive director of Abolitionist Law Center; Mohan Seshadri, executive director of Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance; Michael Coard, civil rights attorney; Lorraine “Mrs. Dee Dee” Haw, homicide co-victim and member of the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration (CADBI); and Movita Johnson-Harrell, the mother of two victims of homicide and founder of The CHARLES Foundation.

DA Krasner and the DA’s policy team will be collaborating with community members, academic experts, criminal justice stakeholders, legislators, and policymakers over the next several months to explore actionable strategies to reduce racial and economic disparities that are discriminatory, including but not limited to: More robust and sustained investment in marginalized neighborhoods and community organizations; expansion of restorative justice programs; improved criminal legal system data collection, sharing, and use; acknowledging and addressing how structural racism continues to present in policing and the legal system; and re-assessing the use of algorithms by prison officials, judges, and other system actors to make sentencing and other decisions that impact system-involved people and their communities.

“Racial Injustice Report: Disparities in Philadelphia’s Criminal Courts from 2015-2022,” is available on Previously published research, reports, and current and historic data can be found on the DATA Lab’s Public Data Dashboard.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is the largest prosecutor’s office in Pennsylvania, and one of the largest in the nation. It serves the more than 1.5 million residents of the City and County of Philadelphia, employing 600 lawyers, detectives, and support staff. The District Attorney’s Office is responsible for the prosecution of approximately 40,000 criminal cases annually. Learn more about the DAO by visiting

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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