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Who is Alvin Bragg? New Manhattan DA will downgrade felonies including prostitution in overhaul

'Woke' new DA gets Mayor Eric Adams' approval to stop seeking prison sentences except for a handful of crimes as part of a major reform of the system
Alvin Bragg speaks during a Get Out the Vote rally in Harlem on November 01, 2021, in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Alvin Bragg speaks during a Get Out the Vote rally in Harlem on November 01, 2021, in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

New York City's massive crime wave could get a lot worse in the coming months, as Manhattan's District Attorney revealed major changes he was bringing in. In a letter to his staff, DA Alvin Bragg Jr argued "reserving incarceration for matters involving significant harm will make us safer." His Day One Letter introduces sweeping new changes to the way the office will handle cases, including downgrading or dismissing charges for many felony crimes. 

Amidst the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the city is also facing a huge surge in crime, as are many other Democrat-controlled cities all over the US. However, many DAs and mayors have responded with a more lenient approach, angering Republicans. For example, in San Francisco, DA Chesa Boudin is now facing a recall after the city's crime numbers shot up, but his conviction rate fell. Similarly, LA DA George Gascon has been slammed for his plan to drop criminal charges against juvenile felons. 


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Building on that, Bragg's plan will see the city use restorative justice efforts over incarceration, as well as reduce pre-trial incarceration and even see many felony charges dropped entirely. It could be the most radical shift in the way New York addresses crime, and it appears Mayor Eric Adams is fully on board.


Who is Alvin Bragg?

New York's first-ever African-American DA has a long and storied history. Growing up in Harlem, Bragg experienced "both sides of the law" at a very early age. According to his letter, he had a gun pointed at his head by cops and non-cops and a homicide victim on his doorstep before he was 21. "In large part because of these experiences, I have dedicated my career to the inextricably linked goals of safety and fairness," he wrote. 

And so, Bragg went to Harvard University where he obtained his B.A. in 1995, followed by a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He then clerked for Robert P. Patterson, Jr., a former judge of the United States District Court. In 2000, he briefly entered private practice before joining the Office of the New York State Attorney General in 2003. From Assistant AG, Bragg worked his way up the ladder involving stints at the US Department of Justice and the New York State Attorney General's Office. Eventually, in November 2021, he was elected as Manhattan's DA, replacing Cy Vance. 

Since 2019, Bragg has also been a visiting professor at New York Law School, where he is also the co-director of the Racial Justice Project. Notably, Bragg led the team that sued the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which led the former President to personally cough up around $2 million. He is also playing a key role in the judicial inquiry against city officials and the NYPD over the death of Eric Garner.


Bragg's plan to reduce crime in NYC

In his extensive 10-page letter, Bragg listed out some of the many changes he wants to make. For one, his office will no longer prosecute marijuana misdemeanors, prostitution, adultery, and a myriad number of other instances. He also wants to drastically reduce pre-trial detention except in extremely violent cases and end the possibility of a life sentence without parole. "Restorative justice programming will be expanded significantly," Bragg noted, especially in cases where "lengthy periods of incarceration are justified."

Strikingly, Bragg also wants to "avoid immigration consequences" for non-citizens charged where "all felonies for which non-carceral (jail) outcomes are the presumptive outcome." Basically, it would allow non-citizens and even undocumented migrants to remain in the city for misdemeanors and felonies that do not carry a significant jail term. "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," he wrote.