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NY Prosecutor Bragg Rebuts Critics, Pushes Incarceration Alternatives

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg begins 2023 with momentum, having won a conviction of former President Trump’s company in December and presiding over a decline in murders and shootings. The criticism that he was too timid to confront Trump and too liberal to make the city safe has eased. Still, Bragg remains a lightning rod, particularly with the persistence of a pandemic-era rise in crime. “I came in as a career lawyer, as someone who is trained to think the work speaks for itself,” he tells the New York Times. He says part of the job is ensuring that his prosecutors’ work is “properly contextualized and understood,” and that he is always responsible for explaining “what specifically is being done to advance public safety and how," adding that, "If you don’t, other people will try to define that work for you.” Bragg, 49, a former federal prosecutor and Manhattan’s first Black district attorney, was pilloried for a memo he released in his first week in office that set out a lenient approach to some crimes. He was further criticized when he chose not to proceed with a grand jury presentation against Trump that was expected to lead to an indictment.

The Republican candidate for governor, Lee Zeldin, made Bragg his scapegoat in an attempt to capitalize on voters’ concerns about the increase in crime. Zeldin vowed to remove the newly elected prosecutor from office. Zeldin’s loss to Gov. Kathy Hochul in November removed a threat. Some policies from Bragg's initial memo were quickly reversed: Within a month, the office reverted to charging those accused of armed commercial robberies and gun possession as felons. Faced with a sharp spike in murders and shootings, his office named a gun czar. Gun possession prosecutions rose to 560 in 2022 from 492 the previous year, and 258 in 2019. Some critics say Bragg has not been tough enough on violent crime. On a grading scale of A through F, Jennifer Harrison of Victims Rights NY, gave the new district attorney a Z. “He’s lived up to everything he said he was going to do in that Day One memo, which is a dereliction of duty,” she said, accusing Bragg of failing to prosecute serious criminals. Despite the criticism, the district attorney has retained his interest in alternatives to incarceration. In March, he created a division within the office called Pathways, whose mission is to identify defendants who would benefit from programs related to mental health, substance abuse or other root causes of crime. This is perhaps the most significant change he has made, ramping investment in finding alternatives to jail and prison, hiring 30 additional staffers to oversee that area and embedding deputy bureau chiefs specifically focused on the issue in each of its six trial bureaus.


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