3L Stein Scholar Dana Kai-el McBeth appeared in a recent New Yorker article for two questions she posed to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner at a Fordham Law event. The magazine also mentioned the on-the-spot job interview McBeth had immediately following the event with Krasner, who was impressed by the depth of her queries. But the New Yorker piece only tells part of McBeth’s story.
McBeth has a background in public defense; during her 2L year she held externships with the Bronx Defenders in its reentry and community outreach department, and with the Legal Aid Society’s criminal appeals bureau. This past summer, she secured an internship with the highly competitive Equal Justice Initiative and currently serves as co-president of the Fordham Law student group Advocates for the Incarcerated.
These experiences made her a perfect fit for Krasner’s team—a DA’s office that has been at the forefront of a burgeoning national trend of embracing more progressive methods of prosecution. Krasner, McBeth noted, is “definitely interested in the more defense-minded attorneys. He’s looking for lawyers who are seeking actual justice and not just convictions.”
McBeth came to Krasner’s talk at Fordham Law with a healthy dose of skepticism. “I wanted to challenge this person who was being presented as one of the most progressive DAs in the country,” she said. While she had prepared five questions for Krasner, she was able to ask only two during the Q&A following his presentation.
McBeth’s well-informed questions, on balancing the perspective of victims in prosecuting cases and on Krasner’s plan to address recidivism, made any potential simple answers suspect, so McBeth was optimistic upon hearing Krasner’s thoughtful responses.
Although a job interview was far from McBeth’s mind when she initially asked her two questions, she found herself the subject of one not twenty minutes after the event concluded, in a conference room peopled only with Krasner and two of his colleagues—Nancy Winkelman, head of the law division at the Philadelphia DA’s office, and Robert Listenbee, first assistant DA to Krasner.
“It was a very conversational interview,” said McBeth, who was able to ask one of the other questions she had prepared for Krasner. What was expected to be a 15-minute interview turned into a full hour.
At one point, Winkelman asked McBeth for her thoughts on the mass Rikers Island bailout that had been reported that day, an organized effort by a team of human rights activists to identify and free female prisoners who could not afford bail. (More than 75 percent of the Rikers population is eventually released without being sentenced to prison.)
“I’m actually volunteering with that,” McBeth responded.
McBeth left the interview with a job offer, which she accepted. “It was a very informative, challenging, and helpful conversation,” she said. “It helped me understand his office and his vision more.”
The narrative that you typically hear about prosecutors, McBeth continued, “is how they want to go after the ‘bad guys’ and get justice for the victims. While I understand that narrative, I also understand the narrative that the person who is being accused or convicted of a crime can be a victim too. So how do you balance two victims?”
Addressing the root causes of recidivism is especially important for McBeth. Recidivism is highest among adults aged 18 to 21, and poverty and lack of education often play a large role. McBeth remarked that scientific studies have shown the human brain is not finished developing until around age 25.
Working in Krasner’s office, McBeth hopes to learn a lot from her colleagues. She wants to establish change on a local level that will eventually snowball into change on a national level.
“This isn’t an ordinary prosecutor’s office,” she said. “I want to help DA Krasner draw up a blueprint for other progressive DAs.”
“My ultimate goal is to learn how to be an effective change agent.”