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Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg Says His Office Won't Prosecute Fare Evasion, Resisting Arrest, Prostitution And More Without Accompanying Felony Charge

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is making changes to what crimes will be prosecuted. His new plan seeks programs before jail time.

But some question how they will impact overall safety in the city, CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas reported Tuesday.

With just days on the job, Bragg is changing how some crimes will be addressed by his office. It fulfills a campaign promise that Bragg says is informed by his upbringing in Harlem and personal experiences both confronting and upholding the law.

"Having had an automatic weapon to my head, a knife to my throat ... so I wanted to give voice to the people who know those experiences and to give context to those who don't," Bragg said.

In a memo to staff, he said offenses like marijuana misdemeanors, prostitution, and fare evasion will no longer be prosecuted.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL MEMO TO DA STAFF

Bragg thinks longer sentences do not deter crime and make society safer.

"Go back 35 years, you saw sort of increased incarceration not necessarily leading to public safety benefits, and then the most recent chapter in our city pre-pandemic, incarceration and crime both decreasing, that's what we have to get back to," he said.

Watch Aundrea Cline-Thomas' report --

Bragg is also advising lesser charges for some low-level drug offenders and for some burglaries, and in low-level store robberies, lesser charges if a suspect "displays a dangerous instrument but does not create a genuine risk of physical harm."

The DA said the changes will allow attorneys more time to prosecute violent offenses.

"Obviously, there is going to be a government response, but for fare evasion it's not going to be incarceration, not in Manhattan," Bragg said. "I had a shootout on my block a month ago. We need to be focused on that."

The new guidelines are framed by principals, including investing more in programs to keep offenders out of jail, reducing the pre-trail jail population, limiting the number of youth tried as adults, and providing more programs to those returning home after incarceration.

Critics fear the effects on the people who live or work in Manhattan.

"There's nothing wrong with saying you want to decrease the amount of people in our prisons. There is nothing wrong with saying you want to exercise stronger discretion in who we sent to prison. But there are some people out there who are committing violent felonies," City Council member Joe Borelli told CBS2's Dick Brennan.

What does Mayor Eric Adams think of the new policies?

"I have not communicated with the DA. I have not looked over and analyzed exactly what he is calling for," Adams said.

But on the campaign trail, Adams advocated for more services, and also higher bail and incarceration for offenders.

Adams said he hopes to convene a meeting with lawmakers, district attorneys, and law enforcement.

"We want everyone to get in the room and operate off of the same playbook. We can have the justice we deserve with the public safety we need," Adams said.

These policies mark a major shift for an office that's earned a reputation for being more heavy handed in its approach to criminal justice.

The Legal Aid Society said in a statement it, "welcomes this memo as a substantive first step to reform an office that long resorted to making excessive bail requests and overcharging our clients," adding, "Meaningful reform demands that these newly announced policies become standard operating procedure officewide, and we urge judges to not stand in the way of these long overdue and necessary reforms."

The Police Benevolent Association said it has, "serious concerns about the message these types of policies send to both police officers and criminals," adding it will, "look forward to discussing these issues with District Attorney Bragg."

Bragg said he welcomes the discussion.

CBS2's Dick Brennan contributed to this report. Editor's note: This story first appeared on Jan. 4.

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