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Campaign for Smart Justice

The ACLU of Pennsylvania is working to reduce the jail and prison population by 50 percent while combating racial disparities in the criminal justice system. We can do this by urging district attorneys across Pennsylvania to adopt policies that are smart on justice instead of being merely tough on crime.

holding district attorneys accountable

The ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Campaign for Smart Justice began its work to hold district attorneys accountable in 2017, educating voters about the candidacy, and eventual election of Philadelphia’s progressive district attorney, Larry Krasner.

In the summer of 2018, the campaign launched statewide. 

After building this website, the campaign sent detailed questionnaires to each of Pennsylvania’s 67 district attorneys, asking them to respond to a variety of questions about how their offices operate on different criminal legal issues. When the majority of district attorneys failed to reply, ACLU of Pennsylvania supporters used this website to contact their respective DAs to urge them to respond. 

In 2019, with a number of district attorney seats up for election, the campaign sent a candidate survey to every incumbent and challenger and featured the responses that were received on this website. We also produced a short video with legendary Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello urging Pennsylvanians to make sure and cast their vote in DA races across the commonwealth. 

In addition to questionnaires and giving Pennsylvanians the chance to advocate for smart justice to their district attorney through this site, here are some other ways we’ve worked to hold Pennsylvania’s district attorneys accountable:

  • We released a Blueprint detailing how Pennsylvania district attorneys could use their prosecutorial discretion to reduce incarceration and challenge racism
  • We organized a candidate forum in Pittsburgh for the incumbent and challenger to discuss criminal legal reform in the first competitive DA election in Allegheny County in two decades
  • We released a report analyzing and calling on the Allegheny County District Attorney Zappala to end the use of cash bail and pretrial detention
  • We sent candidate surveys to every DA incumbent and challenger during the 2019 municipal elections

Why We Must End Mass Incarceration

Imprisonment is a brutal and costly response to crime that traumatizes incarcerated people and hurts families and communities, while failing to improve public safety. It should be the last option, not the first. Yet the U.S. incarcerates more people, in both absolute numbers and per capita, than any other nation in the world. And among the states, Pennsylvania is one of the worst offenders.

Pennsylvania has the fifth largest population of incarcerated people in the country.

In 2015, Pennsylvania had over 280,000 people under court supervision, many long after their crimes were originally committed.

Black Pennsylvanians are 8.9 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, while Latinos are three times more likely to be incarcerated than white Pennsylvanians.

Pennsylvania has the third highest number of people on probation and parole in the country.

Photo by: Molly Kaplan

Photo by: Phuong Tran


The district attorney is the most powerful person in the criminal justice system. Pennsylvania’s 67 district attorneys should use their extraordinary power to seek justice, not convictions, by being transparent about how their offices operate and regularly releasing data, not seeking cash bail, and enacting policies to diminish mass incarceration.

District attorneys in Pennsylvania should also use their influence in the state legislature to oppose any effort to reinstate mandatory minimums at sentencing. Voters should elect reform-minded district attorneys and hold them accountable to smart justice goals.