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DA’s office takes to Point Breeze for community listening session

“We are here so that we can come to understand the kinds of issues and concerns that you have,” First Assistant District Attorney Bob Listenbee said at the event.

Members from the District Attorney’s Office took part in a community listening session Thursday night at Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Point Breeze. DA Larry Krasner wasn’t present at the meeting. However, the following DA’s office representatives were present: Director of Victim’s Services Movita Johnson-Harrell, Chief of Public Nuisance Task Force Andrew Jenemann, Chief of the Conviction Integrity Unit Patricia Cummings, Assistant District Attorney Jim Dellafiora, Director of Immigration Counsel Caleb Arnold, and First Assistant District Attorney Bob Listenbee.

State Sen. Anthony Williams and State Rep. Jordan Harris were also in attendance, however, neither stayed for the entire meeting.

“We are here so that we can come to understand the kinds of issues and concerns that you have,” Listenbee said at the event. As he introduced himself, Listenbee spoke extensively about Philadelphia’s role in the country’s incarceration problem.

“During the campaign, you heard a lot about a broken criminal justice system. A system that for too long had operated under a philosophy were supposed to win all cases at any case, seek every mandatory sentence that they could and recommend sentences without consideration given to the needs of the offenders or charges against them,” he said.

Listenbee went on to say things would be conducted differently. The current DA, he said, would not treat people with substance abuse disorders the same way as people without them, which he believes contributed to why many young people have ended up “in state prison and county jails with records that have barred them from having productive lives.”

Listenbee said “Philadelphia is the center for some of the worst sentencing practices not only in Pennsylvania, but in the entire United States,” while citing Philadelphia’s incarceration rate, which has risen more than 700 percent since the 1970s — even worse than the country’s total incarceration rate, which, he said, has gone up more than 500 percent.

During the question and answer portion of the meeting, a resident asked about laws regarding officers reading Miranda rights.

“Anybody who watches television or a movie is going to think exactly what you’re saying, which is the minute we get put under arrest, we’re entitled to have our Miranda rights read to us,” said Cummings, “but … the whole point of [reciting Miranda rights] is that we’re making sure as a society that cops — and I’m going to say this bluntly — are not beating (up) people and getting confessions or they’re not forcing people psychologically to confess.”

Cummings said officers are only obligated to read Miranda rights before they interrogate suspects. That way, she said, if someone makes an incriminating statement they will do so “voluntarily” and “knowingly.”

Another resident asked about programs available for the youth in the community to learn about their rights. Nobody from the DA’s office could name a specific program, but they were open to the idea of finding ways to make sure young people are more informed.

“In terms of engaging young people,” said Johnson-Harrell, “you can call me, we can set up a tour to bring a group of young people into the DA’s office, to see the different units, to see what we’re doing there.”

It was important the youth understand their rights because police officers, she claimed, are no longer “friends” of the youth.

“We want youth to come in because when I grew up, police officers were our friends,” she said. “That’s not the case anymore. We need to change that dichotomy. We need to change that dynamic because we all have got to live in these communities together.”

Another resident asked about issues with long probation sentences.

Listenbee said that Krasner prefers the idea of shorter probations because “they get violated and they go back to jail.” According to criminologist studies, Listenbee said, most violations of probation occur within the first 12 months, which also contributed to Krasner’s opinion on the matter.

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