The Ex-DA Using Manhattan Institute Platform to Attack Reform Prosectors

    The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research is a big deal in US public safety debates. Cofounded by Reagan CIA Director William J. Casey and financially supported by Wall Street bigwigs, it was a major vehicle through which George Kelling popularized the concept of “broken windows” policing.

    Even today, some of its writers have become famous so quickly it felt like it happened overnight. When Filter published a critique of Christopher F. Rufo’s 2020 disparaging article about people living on LA’s Skid Row, that author was virtually unknown. Less than two years later, Rufo has become so prominent that the New Yorker ran a profile about him being the political strategist who brought critical race theory alarmism into the political mainstream—arguably leading to Republicans taking back the Governor’s mansion from Democrats in Virginia.

    If Tom Hogan, the former elected district attorney of Chester County, Pennsylvania is hoping to use his newfound platform as a columnist at the Manhattan Institute—the “favorite think tank” of the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post—to establish himself as a political influencer, harm reductionists should be concerned.

     Hogan represented the worst excesses of Pennsylvania’s district attorneys outside Philadelphia.

    Hogan’s articles published by the think tank use the prestige of his former office to grant credence to his hot takes about what makes a good or bad prosecutor. He paints the status quo as good—like when he complimented San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, who once helped to obtain the wrongful convictions of three young boys for murder, as a pragmatist balancing modernization of the profession with public safety. And he construes even mild reforms as threats—like when he smeared Ramsey County (Minnesota) Attorney John Choi as having given a “one-man authorization to commit crimes” because he said he would not prosecute cases arising from “non-public safety” traffic stops.

    Some of Hogan’s articles—particularly the hit pieces on reformist DAs—have already been republished in the New York Post. The same was true for Rufo.

    When he was still a prosecutor, Hogan represented the worst excesses of Pennsylvania’s district attorneys outside Philadelphia. First hired by the office in 1998 and elected to lead it in 2011, he demanded harsher mandatory minimum sentences for impaired driving charges and sought the death penalty as a way to extract plea bargains.

    In 2014, Hogan also called for a crackdown on prescription painkillers like oxycodone as a way to get people to stop using heroin, ignoring the fact that around 18 million Americans need these medications to manage moderate-to-severe chronic pain. The national crackdown on regulated opioids has seen overdose deaths related to the adulterated illicit supply soar. Hogan’s occasional expressions of empathy for people with substance use disorder did not extend to avoiding the term “addicts.”

    He is selling a bundle of goods: more incarceration and more policing, with no demonstrable public safety return. Too many people may buy it.

    Like a lot of “tough-on-crime” DAs, Hogan’s policies did not translate to public safety—at least as measured by crime rates. In 2012, his first full year in office, murder went up by 75 percent. Meanwhile, Hogan was consistently converting more than half of prison admissions from local counties to state prisons, signifying harsher sentences. In this regard, he was more punitive than both of his immediate predecessors, Anthony A. Sarcione and Joseph Carroll.

    Without a warning label on Hogan’s columns, readers who are less educated about the criminal legal system may come away with the impression that the reform prosecutors he criticizes are, as he speculates in the New York Post, “racists,” “insane,” “anarchists,” or even “fiscal conservatives.” As it stands, the former Chester County DA is selling a bundle of goods: more incarceration and more policing, with no demonstrable public safety return. Too many people may buy it.



    Image via Stockvault

    • Rory is the founding attorney of Fleming Law LLC, an immigration law boutique in Philadelphia. He has worked for a variety of criminal justice and harm reduction nonprofits, including Law Enforcement Action Partnership and Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project, and provided campaign services for over a dozen district attorney campaigns. His articles have appeared in the Atlantic, Slate and many other outlets.

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