A local civil rights attorney is hoping he can oust incumbent District Attorney Lynn Abraham on Nov. 6 and give the Green Party a political foothold in Philadelphia.
Richard Ash, a Philadelphia-based lawyer for 35 years, was invited to run on the Green ticket for the November elections and is the only Green candidate seeking an office.
Ash — who last ran for District Attorney in 1969 with the Consumer Party — wants to revamp the law enforcement system in the city and “break the two-party monopoly” in the city elections.
“The decisions carried out in Philadelphia are not in the interests of the citizens,” he said. “[The Green Party] is not controlled by fat cats that control the [Democrats and Republicans].”
Ash believes one of the decisions that needs to be re-evaluated is the use of the death penalty in Philadelphia. He is calling for its abolition and vowed never to use it.
The District Attorney does not have the power to abolish the death penalty; that is a decision left to the Pennsylvania State Legislature. While this wouldn’t help those already on death row, Ash could not be forced to seek death in any of the cases that came across his desk. An adequate punishment, he feels, is a life sentence.
“If someone commits a murder, keeping them in jail, I assure you, will prevent them from committing other murders,” he said.
Ash also said that he will be more selective when it comes to prison sentencing. He is calling for the decriminalization of drug use and wants to improve prison conditions.
Again, Ash would not have the power to affect the legality of drugs. But he does have “discretion” when it involves prosecuting a drug user. He wants to concentrate on treatment for drug users while prosecuting drug sellers.
“I believe the [state] legislature must or should re-examine the laws that make drug use illegal. They are sick people and they need treatment. You don’t put sick people in jail,” he said. “When there is that much money to be made, you are not going to stop the drug trade; you are creating more crime. I agree that drug use is a serious problem. The question is how to deal with it.”
Ash was not clear on what options he would have for drug users besides jail. He felt addicts would have to be removed from a problematic environment, but was not sure where to put them. He does, however, know where he wants to put drug pushers.
“As long as the drug laws are in place, I will go after the major drug sellers,” he said. “I have no right to make drugs legal and if I don’t prosecute, I’m saying drugs are legal.”
Overall, Ash feels prison is a harsh punishment and believes it has become a cure-all. He contends that politicians, such as Abraham, have frightened the public into believing prison is the only answer.
“I think if the judges and district attorneys spent a week in jail, they would be far less likely to send people there. It’s a horrible environment,” he said. “I wonder if most citizens know what jail is all about; it offers little else than walls, meager food and guards. We’re too anxious to put people in prison.”
Ash did not have guidelines detailing when convicted criminals would be sent to prison and when they would be considered for a rehabilitative alternative. He was clear, however, on how he would handle juvenile crime.
“I don’t believe in taking a lot of juveniles and treating them like adults,” he said. “We have juveniles at 12 years old shooting teachers. I don’t think the fact that the person did a horrible crime, that we should treat them as adults.”