Newly sworn-in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has instructed his staff to halt prosecutions for a handful of low-level offenses, to only seek bail in certain cases and to never seek life sentences for any crime, according to a memo sent out to employees this week.
Bragg said the office will stop prosecuting people for theft of services, trespassing (unless it accompanies a stalking charge), aggravated unlicensed operation, routine traffic violations not accompanied by felony charges, obstructing governmental administration, resisting arrest, and prostitution.
The memo, released Tuesday, is among Bragg’s first acts as district attorney after running on a progressive platform and promising to use his powers to reduce the number of people behind bars in the city and state. The policies align with pledges Bragg made on the campaign trail and emerge from the theory espoused by progressive prosecutors across the country — undergirded by a growing body of research — that reducing low-level prosecutions may lead to less crime, not more.
“These policy changes not only will, in and of themselves, make us safer; they also will free up prosecutorial resources to focus on violent crime,” Bragg wrote in the memo. “While my commitment to making incarceration a matter of last resort is immutable, the path to get there … will be informed by our discussions … and our work together in the weeks and months ahead.”
Bragg spokesperson Richard Fife said the DA’s office was still determining how many pending cases the office had with those as top charges and would potentially miss them going forward.
In addition to the list of charges the DA won’t prosecute, Bragg said his office would only seek pre-trial detention in a small handful of cases: murder or homicide, certain violent felony offenses, sex offenses, domestic violence felonies or public corruption cases. He said his Assistant District Attorneys would seek a maximum of 20 years in prison for any crime and would never ask for life without parole.
Asked about Bragg’s policy changes at a press conference Tuesday, Mayor Eric Adams, who ran a more centrist campaign focused on tamping down on crime, said he planned to meet with the new DA in the coming days.
“I have not communicated with the DA. I have not looked over and analyzed exactly what he’s calling for,” Adams said, adding, “he has a real vision.” A spokesperson for Adams declined to provide further comment.
A spokesperson for the New York City Police Department referred a reporter to Adams’ remarks, but Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association said he was concerned with, “the message these types of policies send to both police officers and criminals on the street.”
“Police officers don’t want to be sent out to enforce laws that the district attorney won’t prosecute,” Lynch said.
The same day Bragg published the policy memo designed to divert people from jail, he encouraged lawmakers to allow more opportunities for current prisoners to be released.
He appeared at a virtual press conference alongside criminal justice advocates and several state lawmakers calling for the passage of the The Fair and Timely Parole Act and the Elder Parole Act. The bills would require the Parole Board to allow people out on parole unless they were a danger to society, and would give people over the age of 55 who’d served 15 years a chance to appear before the parole board, regardless of their sentence.
“There’s a crisis in our prisons that predates Covid but was intensified by Covid,” Bragg said
Some public defenders said they's already begun to notice a difference in court under the new district attorney.
Amanda Jack with 5 Boro Defenders tweeted after one evening in night court that she’d noticed prosecutors asking for lower bail amounts and that defendants weren’t being “upcharged” as often — meaning prosecutors typically levied the most serious charges they could against a defendant and were backing away from that. Eliza Orlins, a Legal Aid Society public defender who’d campaigned against Bragg in the primary, said she’d seen a similar shift.
“I’m hearing good things about charging decisions, bail decisions and we’ll hopefully hear more good stuff to come,” Orlins said. “He’s only been in office for one and a half business days.”
Tina Luongo with the Legal Aid Society said her office welcomed Bragg’s policy declaration.
“We urge judges to not stand in the way of these long overdue and necessary reforms,” she said.