Independent Lens


Part 4 | Philly D.A. | Episode 4

Activist LaTonya “T” Myers lands her dream job just as she’s beginning a 10-year probation sentence. Any slip could send her back to prison. While “T” petitions the court for freedom for herself and thousands more, the D.A.’s team pursues systemic probation reform, facing judges who embrace extended supervision. It’s a chance they believe will break a major cycle of mass incarceration in Philly.

AIRED: May 04, 2021 | 0:55:45

Previously on "Philly D.A."...

- Say yes to start the end

of mass incarceration.

[cheers and applause]

- He speaks the language of the movement.

- We're gonna stop spending money on stupid

and start spending it on smart.

We gotta go a different direction.

- This administration is going to have a somewhat activist

approach to criminal justice reform.

- I think if we chip away on two big fronts,

the bail population and reform and probation.

- We will not allow anyone to put a price tag on our freedom.

[cheers and applause]

- Good evening, everybody. My name's LaTonya Myers.

I'm a formerly incarcerated activist and organizer

with the Community Bail Fund.

I was released in November.

I was held on a $1,500 bail

on charges that was false,

but I still was detained for nine months.

In that nine months, I lost my aunt,

I lost my cousin,

and I wasn't able to attend their funeral.

While incarcerated, I watched a young woman

have a baby in a toilet in the middle of the night

because she wasn't able to get to the infirmary in time.

I watched a mother try to commit suicide.

I want to use my voice

to encourage the ladies that I was locked up with,

but I also want to do the work that will help them get home.

I just ask y'all to stand with us

in trying to... [sighs]

Trying to bring families back together.


- Can I ask you a question?

Where do you currently work?

- [laughs]

Right now, I'm just doing outreach

at Institute for Community Justice

a couple days a week, so-- and then I'm volunteering--

- Can you join me?

I would love--I'm offering you a job today with our--

[laughter] No, I'm dead serious.

- What? [applause]

- I really want you to work as our bail advocate.



- Yo, Mom, what's up? Guess what?

I just got offered a job at the Public Defender's Office.

Yes, I'll probably start next Monday.


All right, love you too.

[dramatic music]

- ♪ I said

♪ People

♪ There's a new world coming

♪ It's coming for you

♪ Oh, no

♪ It's coming for me

- Damn. [laughs]

- What's up, man?

- What's up? How you doing?

- Hi.

- What's up, William? I was chilling, man.

- Is everything good?

- This job means so much to me.

It's my first chance of a career.

How you been doing with direct supervision?

Oh, that's good to hear.

When was the next time you have to go down there?

I help people get on they feet when they come home,

connect them with employment, job, housing.

I interview them so the judges

can have a better understanding

as to who they are outside of

what they're being charged with.

You all right, man?

You've been on probation for two years.

Name three things that you're proud

to let the judge know about you.

- I'm a great dad, I work hard,

and I always try to do better.

- Okay, so he wants to just turn himself in

so he can move forward.

- Mm-hmm. - 'Cause he's working,

and he's got partial custody of his son.

- Great, great.

- And he has a really good job at this time.

So I really don't wanna see him go, you know,

get flustered and frustrated when he's doing so good.

- Absolutely, absolutely.

- And they can just grab me at any time for anything.

My biggest fear is when they take me, they gonna send me son

to, like, DHS or something. Can't have that.

- I know how it feel.

I've been in and out of the system all my life.

Your employer was willing to...

In 2012, I was found guilty

on three misdemeanor charges.

I was sentenced to 1 1/2 to 5 years.

That meant that I spent a minimum of 1 1/2 years

in jail before I was paroled to serve

the rest of my sentence on the street with supervision.

I served three years on parole successfully.

I did very well.

Parole helped me get on my feet.

And now I'm due to start

almost a decade of probation.

I don't know what it's gonna be like.

I'm nervous.

And it's hard to live life like this,

always being looked at at your worst

and not really at your best.

Can't really move forward.

Once you get convicted, you already have that,

like, scar, the letter F, that you're a felon.

You're gonna fail.

And that's not what motivates people to want to change.

- So good news. The numbers at the prison

are down from 4,841

to 4,700 this morning.

- What? A round number?

I don't believe it.

How does this number compare historically?

When is the last time Philadelphia had 4,700 people

in county custody? Does anybody know?

- That was the first time

since 1995 or '6.

- Okay, well, that's great.

Does anybody think that there's another policy

that's sort of timely?

- More than a third of the people that we have

in local custody are there

because they are alleged

to have violated their probation.

And not very many of them

are gonna pose a threat to public safety.

I mean, you know, we're talking about people

who are being thrown in jail for using marijuana.

We're talking about people who are being thrown in jail

'cause they get picked up on a prostitution arrest

and this office doesn't charge,

but then probation finds out about them

and then they drop a detainer.

Their behavior, I mean, it's problematic,

but a lot of them don't belong in jail.

This is a way to bring down the jail population

in a sustained way.

- [laughs]

- Well, what am I planning to take back

to a position of balance next? Let me see.

There's so many people who go to jail

for violations of probation and parole

that don't involve a new conviction.

1 in 14 African Americans you pass on the sidewalk

are currently under supervision in Philadelphia.

And that's just ridiculous.

Science shows that the first couple years of supervision,

they're worth it, but after that, in most cases,

it's actually making things worse.

And then you start to see failures

that are caused by the process.

If that's how we're putting people back in jail,

then we are causing failure.

Pennsylvania is the second most supervised state

in the United States today.

New York has 12,000 people

on probation and parole.

Philadelphia has 40,000 people.

And New York is six times as large as we are.

We should be cutting the number of people on probation

and parole in half.

[cheers and applause]

[phone rings]

- Hello?

I'm actually right here outside.

Yes, sir. All right, thank you so much.

All right. All right, bye-bye.

How many more bags?

- They're eight. - Eight bags?

- Yeah - Wow, guys.

People leave their jackets in the club

all the time, you know?

I call, and I'm like, "Hey, Mr. J, what y'all doing

"with your jackets in the coat closet

that's like lost and found?" And he's like, "Nothing."

And I'm like, "I wanna do a coat drive."

And he was like, "Yeah, come get them."

- Miss Dawn. - Thank you very much.

- You're welcome.

- I remember getting kicked out this club.


More than ten times, literally.

We thought that this was the way out,

by hustling.

Just a kid in a world where everybody else was getting it,

and I felt like I deserved a piece of the pie.

I just didn't know how to get to it, right?

I just didn't know.

So much went on in this alley, man.

Like, I bled on the ground here.

Got locked up here. Dropped tears on the ground.


The last case I caught here, man.

I caught a gun case coming outta here.

Could have been the end of me.

[phone line trilling]

- Hi, Miss Myers.

- Hey, Agent Barthle. How are you?

- I'm alive.

You looking forward to being done?

- Not really, man.

- What's going on?

- It's just that, like,

I'm getting worried, like,

just to go from one PO to the next.

You know what I mean? I've got more of

an understanding and relationship with you.

And just to get thrust

and have someone else, you know,

have control of my life,

it's kind of scary, you know?

- You're doing better within your life than most people

who ain't on parole.

You're helping people. You've got a good job.

You're going to college. You're doing the right thing.

- It's just, man, I've been on this [bleep]

for so long, yo, like--

- Ask how rarely you can report

or if you can telephone report.

Don't let them put your head down.

- Right. All right, thanks, Barthle.

- Take care. - All right, man.

Now that I'm starting probation,

I will have a brand new probation officer

that would supervise me for the next decade.

[somber music]

- What we're trying to show here is very simply

that there is a strong correlation

between sections of the city

that are below the poverty line

and populations of people on supervision.

- This takes up the whole city. There's barely a part

of the city that's not touched by supervision.

I mean there's people everywhere

who are being supervised.

- I just want to point out that the dark blue,

which is almost the entire city,

is areas where the average

is more than three years.

- What? - Wow.

The average length of probation or supervision

in all the blue areas

is more than three years?

- That's most of the city, what?

- Yeah. - Yeah.

- I was a public defender many, many years ago.

And then when I began to look at probation

and parole I really said,

"Well, this is a place that we absolutely need help."

My name is Sangeeta Prasad.

My office is in the District Attorney's Office,

but I work closely with both the public defender

and the DAs. And I'm hoping to start working

very closely with probation and the judges too.

But it's more of an uphill climb; we're getting there.

My focus is on reducing

the number of people on probation.

- Well, I'm still on parole, you know?

The judge said that I was incorrigible.

I didn't even know what incorrigible meant.

I went straight to the dictionary.

I said, "Oh, boy."

- What does that mean?

- Never going to change or can't be redeemed.

And she sentenced me 12 to 40 years.

- Damn.

- So that's why

I'm still on parole.

- Even though I'm doing everything

I'm supposed to be doing-- I pay, clean urines, report,

never violated, absconded or nothing--

I still get this fear of going behind this door

and coming out in handcuffs.

So when I go,

I pack sneakers, underwear, money,

everybody phone numbers that I need

'cause I see people get arrested.

- I'm not allowed to leave the city of Philadelphia.

My kids are in Bensalem.

So when I get caught going to see my kids,

I have to do 30 days for a violation of probation.

That sets me back a phase,

and then I have to just restart all over again.

And I don't care

'cause I'm gonna see my kids.

- I see myself in so many

of the people that get entangled

in the criminal justice system,

especially women of color.

It feels like I have to make up

for some of what I feel

was my complicity as a public defender

in allowing the system to continue as it had been.

I've had judges and probation officers say to me,

"I couldn't do a ten-year probation without violating.

I couldn't. I know I couldn't."

So then the thought is, "Well, then why don't you

object to it happening to others?"

[soft music]

- No easy way to say this:

a judge has a ridiculous amount of power.

He can change--or she,

could change a person's life

by a snap of a finger.

I want the defendant to know

that we are there to help them succeed.

Mr. Krasner has the perception that probation

tries to jam the defendant up,

get him in trouble, report him, put him in jail.

That's a perception.

See, the carrot without the stick, in my opinion,

will not be effective.

Mr. Krasner is not explaining to each defendant,

"Take advantage of this opportunity or else."

And without the "or else," which Mr. Krasner

is not--it's not part of his message, respectfully.

His message: "We're gonna give you a chance."

I don't think that's enough

to have people not do it again.

- I'm getting ready to go to the probation office.

Impression is everything 'cause all they know

is what they reading on that paper.

She don't know who I am for real.

So got to make a good impression.

She got my life in her hands.

I make the wrong impression...

She might make the wrong decision

or the wrong assumption, you know?

For a relationship, you can walk away.

Can't walk away from this. [laughs]

It was couple days after my 12th birthday.

I woke up that morning and my mom's boyfriend

had took her bed

and dragged it all the way down the steps.

He was out of control.

I thought that I could protect my mom.

And I picked up an air freshener can,

and I hit him with it.

He went to a payphone, called the police.

When I seen the cops,

I thought that they would understand

what was going on.

I was charged with aggravated assault

in the first degree.

- Next stop, City Hall.

- That was the first time I ever was in jail.

But for three days, I didn't know where my mom was at.

I didn't know if any if any of my family knew where I was at.

I was just there,

and I would cry so hard.

Finally, my lawyer pulled me to the side

and she says,

"Your grandmom's here. You take this probation,

"you go home with your grandma today.

or go back to jail for another 10 days to fight this case."

I chose to go home with my grandma.

I'm 29,

and that first felony from when I was 12 years old

is what get brings up time and time again.

My only felony on my record that I shouldn't even have.

Instead of getting protected, I got prosecuted.

I just rebelled.

- Man, they got half the city on probation for nothing.

I've been on probation, now it's been six years.

Clean slate, and I always get my probation started over

for missing a date or just something frivolous.

- I've been on probation since '06.

I just got off

for receiving stolen property.

Since '06-- I'm just getting off this year.

- They got like an ax hanging over your head at any time,

you know? You never know.

It's, like, your life is not yours no more.

- Next.

[somber music]

- I'm on probation till 2027.

I have to report weekly.

I'm on high risk,

mandatory anger management,

mandatory drug and alcohol. [sighs]

Weekly visits here. Random visits at my house.

Random visits at my job.

Court fines and costs.

- I think there's something like 40,000 people

on probation or parole in the city right now.

What is your sense of how well that system is working?

- I'm rather sensitive about that only because,

as an administrative judge of the trial division,

Probation and Parole Department fall under my authority.

The Probation Parole Department is the eyes

and ears of a judge,

at alerting the judiciary

of a probationer's action or inaction.

And to the extent that Philadelphia is a safer city

because we have that number of people being supervised

by our Probation and Parole Department,

I see as a good thing.


- I think because of the way that we've been messaging it

for so many decades, which is that,

if you're gonna keep the rest of the community safe,

you should keep people on probation for as long

as you possibly can.

It's, like, a myth. It's like in our gut, in a way,

'cause we've been hearing it for so long.

And it's not really true.

- Your status of high risk

is based on the original police report,

not what you were ultimately found guilty of.

Like if someone says, "Hey, she tried to shoot me," right?

And that makes it into the police report

as their complaint, you go to trial

and they determine that's false,

but you actually punched her.

So whatever happened in the trial

never makes it into the probation's determination

of what level of risk you should be.

It should be based on fact,

not the speculative information

that's in a one-sided version of a police report.

How many more years you have?

- Until 2027.

- Yeah, so you've got eight more years of probation.

- Yes.

- Reporting. - Reporting.

- Once a week? - Yes.

- For eight years? - Yes.

- Interesting.

To put this level of pressure on you

and then whenever you make a mistake and miss,

you're getting threatened or going back to jail,

which messes with your psyche. And then, you know,

it doesn't help you to help the clients that we represent.

I don't know how much more anyone

can ask of you on probation.

- She said it's, like, nothing I can personally do

to atone for or to, like, try to prove

that I'm no longer high risk.

That's just something that they can't override.

- That makes no sense.

Larry and I are meeting

with the judges on Thursday

about people who have been proven to be well-adjusted.

And we're gonna be asking for the removal of probation.

And so I'm gonna put your name on this list.

She may or may not want to hear it,

but I'm gonna--this is what I'm gonna be presenting,

your story, because I think you're like the poster child

for why there needs to be probation caps.

[ambient music]

- State Correctional Institution.

This call is subject to recording and monitoring.

- Yo, bro.

What's up with you?

How you feeling? You all right?

- Yeah, man, like, chilling, man.

I'm talking about everything good.

- Y'all still making furniture for them [bleep]?


- You could do it for your family too, though.

- Why you ain't send me nothing?

- Nah, 'cause you gotta--like,

the only way you can get it

is if you come pick it up.

- I need a dining room table for Thanksgiving.

- [laughs] - I'm dead serious.


It's been too long, you feel me?

- Yeah. - I got you, you hear me?

[bleep] [bleep] up, but I promise I got you.

But I ain't going backwards. You know what I'm saying?

- Hold on real quick, sis.

- The guard's coming.

- They coming in, all right?

- All right, go ahead. I love you.

- All right, I love you too.

- We had big dreams

of going to college,

buying grandmom a house,

getting our license, going to prom, graduations.

I haven't seen or hugged my brother in over 10 years,

and I can't go visit him 'cause I'm on probation.

[somber music]

- Hi. How are you?

- Larry, I thought I had 5:30. - All right.

- All right.

[sighs] All right, good.

Thursday, we're meeting with Judge Allen.

- Yeah, this meeting is about

the idea that we're trying

to get judges

on a large scale

to shorten probation and parole for people who did well.

You know, my office said to Probation and Parole,

"Why don't you give us some proposals for groups of people

you think would be good to terminate early?"

'Cause we were trying to get them to buy in.

Nothing but foot dragging. Why are they not liking

the idea of slashing 40,000 people or so?

- Because it's gonna slash their--

- Down to half.

- Yeah, it's about territory; it's about resources.

Keeping their people.

But to be honest with you, Larry,

I feel like this is the way we need to sell it.

Our whole system is overburdened; it is.

It only allows us to have five to ten minutes

in certain hearings, which is ridiculous.

- Yeah. - And if we do shrink it,

we could have more robust hearings

where the right decisions could be made

with the right information being presented.

- The mere fact that the prosecution

and the defense agree

does not mean game over.

It is the judge who makes the determination

whether or not that agreement is one that meets muster,

taking into consideration, yes, the defendant,

that individual defendant, but again, the larger question

of whether the community is well served.

- Good.

- And then I included the statute in it too.

- Good.

- Probation and Parole Department has the information

on who is on probation right now

and for what length of time.

I'm hoping Judge Allen gives the information that we need

in order to try to get people off of probation early.

- DA Krasner, his tenure as DA

has not been a total panacea of all good.

There's been the need to-- I would think he would agree,

to modify some of his positions

and to sometimes go slow.


One of my favorite lines is, "Stay in my lane."

I as a judge,

as much as I may want that end result fast, quick,

and in a hurry, and as a Black woman,

having had to face some of those challenges

in terms of why couldn't fairness

and justice come sooner, you know,

for people who look like me.

But also in my training,

we do it better,

we do it right when it is slow.

And it should move in a measured,

deliberate kind of way because we need to get it right.

[soft music]

- Everybody's gotten in love with this notion

that it's a consensus based model.

Guess what?

Consensus based models never get anything done.

This protects public safety.

Keeping people on too long makes them fail.

That's against public safety.

We have an obligation to pursue--

- I don't think she's persuaded of that.

- Well, I think--

- Obviously not, she's persuaded

by law and statutes. - Okay.

- Doesn't matter, yeah. - But I mean

we have an obligation to pursue public safety now.

- Yeah, that's right. - So look,

judicial independence, public defender independence...

- Right. - Is huge.

- And prosecutorial independence...

- Huge. - Are three separate things.

And the notion that other people can tell us

when and what we can do and how we can do it.

But, you know, just as we're not invading their lane,

they should not be invading ours.

- This stuff arguably should have been done for a decade.

- Right. - So it is what it is.

- Let's do it.

- I would not have thought that there would be

this much pushback by the judiciary

around what feels like some common sense measures

to move the city forward.

I think this is gonna be hard.

- We've been trying to engage with the judges to see

if we could work together, and they're not playing.

I mean, that's the bottom line. They're just not playing.

Our focus now has to be on what we can do with our discretion

to curb unnecessarily long probation sentences.

Basically, if we went to a standard

of don't do more

than three years of supervision,

we would, in theory,

be reducing sentences for about 80% of the cases.

- If we're making offers

and giving a really good explanation

of what our reasoning was, judges might adopt some of it

because, under the prior administration,

I can tell you that judges added

these horrendous long periods of probation

to satisfy the blood thirst of this office.

- My gut is if we tell them, "You have a deal right here

"on terms we like, which is going to result

"in a shorter period of your supervising,

and we think it's fair or you can try this case..."

They're not gonna wanna try the case.

They're gonna be a lot of cases

where they're gonna be like, "Argh!"

Okay, I'm not looking for a fight, but...

[clears throat]

- People think, from watching TV, watching movies,

that anyone who comes into a courtroom

who has been charged with a crime

gets to have a trial in front of a judge.

That's not the reality.

With tens of thousands of new cases coming into a system

where you have 60-odd judges

trying to manage them,

you absolutely cannot have that many people going to trial.

The quickest way to dispose of a matter

that's coming before a judge is for the DA

and the defense attorney to agree on a sentence.

The vast majority of judges

will agree to negotiated pleas

because if they didn't, the system would collapse.

- How many defendants are here for me today?

One, two, three, four, five, six.

Seven, eight, nine, ten, 11.

All right, let's get to work. Wash our hands,

put on some hairnets, the beard thing.

I'm not on some pedestal.

If I'm gonna order community service,

then I'm gonna put my money where my mouth is.

All right, anybody know what they're doing over here?

You're right here with me.

You fill this up, right?

I think that you are making excuses

and almost empowering people to commit more crime

by saying it's not their fault at all,

"Let's terminate everybody,

"legalize all drug sales, sell heroin, carry guns

because it's not your fault." No.

We have to have the individuals

in minority neighborhoods

knowing it's not the right thing to do.

So anybody got any concerns about probation?

- I don't know if I've got a warrant or not.

- Where do you think the warrant's at?

- It's from my probation officer.

'Cause I got locked up for some weed.

- Schedule a hearing for me. I don't know.

I'm not gonna put you in jail eventually,

but at least I'll hear you out.

- All right.

- Another thing I don't like about the system,

if I've got a job, I'm doing better,

I'm doing all this good stuff and I smoke one blunt,

I gotta get locked up. How?

I just did all this good stuff for years.

- Daphne, is that you laughing over there?

Stop laughing, this is no fun, get to work.

Jenna, yo, crack the whip for me!

After you leave my room, you're on probation,

and I'm giving you more things to help you succeed.

If you fail, it's just on you.

I don't want to put you in jail.

You can only put you in jail.

- Doors are closing.

- "Arrest warrant warning.

"You have failed to report

"to your probation officer as required.

"We have been unable to contact you.

"This is our last attempt to contact you

before we issue a warrant for your arrest."

Today, out of all days, I decided to, like,

sort through my mail, right?

- Yeah? - I see this.

I turn around and I've got a [bleep] arrest warrant...

For not reporting.

I missed a couple appointments.

I forgot. I was working.

It's just, like, eating me the whole day, like,

what the [bleep], like-- - Yeah, yeah.

[sighs] I'm sorry, T.

- You didn't call one of my emergency contact people

to see if I was okay?

You didn't shoot me an email? That ain't cool, yo.

- I know, I know.

When are you going to see her?

- I gotta see her tomorrow. - At what time?

- I was gonna get there as soon as I got to the office.

- Okay, all right.

- So I'm gonna go see my PO today.

I don't know if I'm gonna be able to go back to work

or if I'm gonna be going back to jail.

I don't know how she's feeling.

Hopefully, she's in a good mood.


All that just to ask me five questions.

"Have you been rearrested?

"Do you still live at the same address?

Do you still work at the same job?"

They like, "We do this in the best interest of the citizens."

And it's like, "Am I not a citizen?"

Thank you.

- Thanks a lot. Appreciate you.

- God bless you.

- At the direction of

some of the leadership in the courts,

there is to be a meeting mandatory for,

I believe, just the CP judges.

I would say it's 99.9% set that neither we

nor the public defenders will be there.

My understanding is that the topic

will be judicial independence.

And the efforts of this DA's office

to address my words,

not theirs, the absurd levels of supervision in Philadelphia.

- It's not really judicial independence, Larry.

I think this is just a power play.

This is--this is them saying,

"We're not gonna let you manipulate us," you know.

But we're not trying to tell them

how to decide an individual case.

And that's what judicial independence is all about.

- What is happening now is we have awakened all the giants.

And the giants are, you know,

grumbling and getting their clubs and starting to stand up.

I mean, I guess it's what you expect

with institutional change, right?

So there's going to be some kind of a communication

or letter sent under my name

with a lot of data

to back it up so that the judges

who are interested in this will have the full picture.

- He's in there.

- Larry decided he was going to hand-deliver a letter

to every one of the judges

that laid out what the research said

about the fact that sentences should be shorter

and that they do more good if they're shorter.

And also say the DA's office is gonna start looking

at early terminations, would you join us?

We can do the hand deliveries first thing in the morning.

- You're leaving, I guess, right?

- Oh, no, I'm gonna stay late today.

- Oh, you are? All right.

Well, let me just try and bang it out.

- You have the other three things we're gonna attach.

Two reports and one...

- Yeah, everything's filled. - Bar graph.

- And itemized. I just need the letter.

- I mean, in general, it's nice to be nice.

Nice is better than not nice.

I mean we should all sit around and be nice,

and then through our niceness, something nice will happen

'cause that's nice.

But when we really want to get something done,

the way you start the conversation

is by doing something that causes a commotion.

- How do you think judges will respond

when they read this letter?

- "[bleep] him." [laughs]

I don't know.

You're gonna have to take that out.

- 15 through 16. Hi, DA's office.

[buzzer buzzes]

I just have a delivery for the judge.

- All right great. Thanks a lot.

- Thank you, appreciate it. [doorbell rings]

Hey, pretty good. How are you?

Got a piece of mail for the judge.

[doorbell rings]

Good morning. How are you?

- How are you? - I'm good.

I have a piece of mail for the judge.

- How you doing? - Hi.

I have a piece of mail for the judge.

- Oh, great.

You don't happen to know the contents, do you?

- Um, no.

I have a piece of mail for the judge.

[doorbells ringing]

Sorry. - May I help you?

- Sorry. I have mail to drop off.

[doorbell rings]

[buzzer buzzes] [doorbell rings]

[buzzer buzzes]

- Hand-delivered. - Hand-delivered!

A hand delivery

from District Attorney Krasner.

"Rates of correctional control with Pennsylvania

"being the second most people

with probation violations."

I imagine Georgia being number one.

- Continuing his fight for criminal justice reform,

District Attorney Larry Krasner

is set to announce a new probation policy this morning.

- Thank you all for joining us.

Today we are here to talk about new policies

that will further our effort

to end mass supervision,

the evil twin of mass incarceration.

While the first year of supervision

shows real benefit in many cases,

the second and third years show diminishing benefits,

that when you get past three years,

it makes things worse,

it decreases public safety,

it causes crime.

Yes, I said it causes crime.

This is criminological science.

- That makes no sense to me.

You're not more likely to commit a crime

just because you have to call your probation officer

once a month or get drug tested every other month.

The reason that they're placed in jail

is 'cause they weren't following the rules,

and that's why they're going to jail.

- Failure to timely tell your probation or parole officer

that you changed address,

that can be the basis for a violation.

Having a small amount of marijuana in your system

years into successful supervision

in and of itself locks people up,

breaks their bonds with family,

knocks their job out of the box,

and as we all know, when you start to lose family

and you start to lose work,

you're going back in the direction of crime.

You're not coming away from it.

- I don't know the correlation between, "I have to be tested.

"Oh, my God. I have to go see my PO.

I better run out and commit more crimes now!"

I mean, that makes zero sense.

- We have a culture that grew up around these quirky laws

that believes that it's normal to be supervised,

not only as long as,

but much longer than people are in custody.

- I have done this for 30 years.

I don't like someone telling me what to do.

And these kinds of guidance that we're given

is as ridiculous as it can get.

- We, obviously, you know, we understand.

We do not have complete control nor should we.

We are fairly confident that we're gonna have

a good reception from the judiciary.

But we certainly respect their independence.

And that will have some effect on how successful it is.


- People being sentenced moving forward

would definitely benefit from these policies.

That's great. I'm truly happy.

Like, I'm excited for those.

But unfortunately,

thousands that's already been harmed by the system,

it has no effect on us. So we got to keep fighting.

- The fact that he sent the letter saying,

"This is the DA's position,"

I think it was really bold to do,

and it makes it so that even though

there's a judges' meeting to which he's not invited,

he's already been able to say what his position is.

So it's created a dialogue, even where he wasn't invited.

- All of us want to get it right.

And to get it right takes process.

Process takes deliberative movement and collaboration.

All of which says, it's not done overnight

with the flick of a switch.

[ambient music]

- LaTonya "T" Myers is a community organizer

and social justice activist. Last spring, she organized

the annual Liberty and Justice For All event to educate

the LGBTQ community of their civil rights.

She is also active in voter registration

and currently works for the Philadelphia Defender's Office

as a bail negotiator.

[cheers and applause]

- This is not a citation from court.

This is not the citation that I'm used to getting, too.

No more court citations.

This is love.

- I'm really proud of my daughter.

She has a powerful voice,

and she's been doing big things.

I'm very, very proud of her.

I love you.

- I love you too. [laughs]

[camera shutter clicking]

I'm going to Harrisburg today

to stand for what I know is the truth.

And that's that me, among so many other individuals,

are fighting to move forward

and not to be chained to the mistakes of our past.

- This is an American problem!

[crowd shouting]

No more time for talking.

Now is the time for action!

I'm gonna be on the right side of history,

and I want you to join us as we reform this system.

Thank you so much for being here.

[cheers and applause]

[camera shutters clicking] [chatter]

- Panel number four includes LaTonya Myers.

Would you like to begin?

- Within the last 18 months,

I was able to start school,

start community college-- [laughs]

I apologize. I'm a little nervous.

But I was able to find my voice

and become an advocate,

to be a part of the solution and not the problem.

I think when it comes to true probation reform,

we have to start with the reform of the culture

in the probation department.

I mean, the culture in the probation department

is not one that's encouraging.

It's not empowerment.

When I got on probation,

all I was told was I have to come in here weekly and report.

I was looked at as high risk because of an algorithm that,

no matter what I accomplished,

until 2027, it would never change.


That is a meaningless, endless cycle,

a cycle of trauma, a cycle of pain.

And some of the effects

can be irreversible.

We just want to get a true, fair second chance.

Not a second class citizen,

but a fair second chance to prove ourselves

and to build our communities up.

Thank you.

- The drastic measures that are in this bill

will have collateral effects

that will harm public safety

and also break the system.

- The criminal justice system is the biggest deliverer

of mental health, drug and alcohol treatment,

and even job training because--

for a very, very simple reason: we have the hammer of prison.

And people don't want to change unless forced to, often.

I've been a judge for seven years in

the Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia,

and I think some of the examples

that are brought up are outliers.

- This is not an outlier conversation.

I wouldn't be here for an outlier conversation.

I wouldn't be introducing legislation

if it was an outlier conversation.

We're talking about people who are not the problem,

who are continually being violated by the system.

Miss Myers is not an outlier, with all due respect,

my friend from Philadelphia. She's very consistent

with the pattern that's happening in Philadelphia.

[dramatic music]

- We're going to Judge Simmons' chambers

to have her sign

the first round of petitions

that meet her requirements

for early probation termination without a hearing.

- Very recently, the District Attorney

has sent something out

about looking at probations very differently.

And so many of us

were just flabbergasted.

Could not believe 40,000 people on probation.

I see a lot of the judges that are extremely,

extremely what I call old school.

And it gets to be, to me, so petty,

that it can be a good thing

that Larry Krasner's putting out there,

and they could believe it's a good thing.

But sometimes, I think the message is getting lost

in the messenger

as opposed to we're looking at it

and saying, "Oh, this is a good thing."

But it's like, "Oh, it's coming from Larry Krasner?

No, we're not gonna do this."

- Work once a month? - Yeah.

- [inaudible] - Good to see you.

- So nice to see you.

- Nice, thanks for coming over.

Come on in.

I tried to put everything together with the petitions.

And I've already read over all of them, so yes.

- Thank you. - Some of the things that are

being suggested feels, like, radical.

But if you can make it make sense to me,

then of course I'm willing to look at it.

Yeah, so we'll see.

- Thank you, Judge. Always a pleasure.

- My pleasure. Thank you all.

- All right, Judge, thank you. - You are very welcome.

- It's great to see you. - I'm glad to see you here too.


- I just came from peeking in

at my judge's courtroom.

She meaner than Judge Joe Brown.

She gave a boy 20 to 40 today

like it was like giving him candy.


- I know that going before the court

for you is scary.

We'll prep you. You're working full-time.

You're reporting to your probation officer.

You should not worry at all.

- I just want to be a regular citizen.

Like, I want to be judged off my progress and not my past.

And I just feel like every day,

it feel like I'm a leased convict.

Like, I'm just walking

in this, like, treadmill almost.

And it makes me flustered and really, really frustrated

because I'm really, really trying.

It makes me scared of everything

that I work hard to get,

and so fragilely,

I can lose over an appointment

or having to pacify

a PO that's a human like me.

That we work every day

and just having those relationships

that can go sour. It makes me afraid.

- One of the arguments that I use with judges

to get probation terminated

is that it becomes an impediment for you

to become a successful citizen

after a certain period of time.

I feel your frustration. So I'm telling you,

I think the time is right now that we give this a shot.

- Okay.

- And I'm gonna wear my hat too,

so we're both gonna look-- [laughter]

I'm gonna get up and get it.

See? - [laughs]

- Oh, hey! [laughing]

- All right, did it right. - Yeah.

[bell ringing]

[soft music]

- You okay? It's all right.

You're okay.

Grandma would be super proud of you right now.

So don't you worry.

She'd live for this moment, LaTonya.

And guess what?

She's here, believe me when I tell you.

She's smiling down on you

right now as we speak.

So you have nothing to worry about, believe me.

She would have never left you struggling.

She know you got this.

I know you got this.

The judge pretty much grilled her.

It was all negative.

- She wasn't impressed with what she heard.

- The judge went through

T's long history,

that unfortunately dates back to her being a kid.

- I'm gonna tell y'all this. - Yeah.

- She had T going for a minute, but when T collect herself.

- Deep breaths, right? - T collect herself.

I was like, "There you go. That's what you do, girl."

- Deep breaths. - Yeah.

- Are you all right? - You did great.

- That's all right. All right.

- It went spectacular.


- I'm telling you. I'm telling you.

- [laughs] - Hey, LaTonya.

- Come on, y'all.

all: Freedom! [all cheering]

- One down, too many to go.

- That's right.

- [sighs]

- Next time on "Philly D.A."...

- They pulled the gun out and shot the victim

in the stomach and the head. This was an assassination.

- They told us that he was murdered,

and my whole world kind of collapsed.

- I thought about it every single day

for 27 years.

- Breaking news,

a two-year-old girl shot and killed.

Violence has surged in this city.

- Who was DA when there were dozens of people

shot over the weekend? - I was.

- Is there a public safety crisis in Philadelphia?

- "Philly D.A.," on PBS.

[siren wailing]

[bombastic music]

- If you don't have someone there telling the story,

you're gonna lose the narrative.

- Well, you know, there's two sides to this.

- All right, I'm gonna stand up so that you can actually see

the merchandize, as they say.

- Things are unfolding right now.

- The challenge is, for me,

saying the true thing that nobody else will say.



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