By Ayanna Gandhi
PHILADELPHIA – The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision not to act to reform “Philadelphia’s unjust and inefficient cash bail system” was a disappointment, said Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner this week.
“My office respectfully disagrees with the court that the First Judicial District’s bail system is essentially sound. The current system is highly inflexible, often forcing prosecutors and magistrates to make decisions based on too little information, including defendants’ criminal histories or their ability to pay,” said the Philly DA.
“What we have currently is a system that too often imprisons people pre-trial who are more poor than dangerous while allowing people who are a danger to the public out pre-trial simply because they have money,” he added.
“Community-based alternatives to pre-trial detention are effective where they exist, such as in New Jersey and Washington, D.C., which have far more effective and just bail systems. The bail reforms my office has instituted so far have not resulted in higher recidivism or Failure to Appear (FTA) rates,” Krasner said.
Krasner argued that to “achieve a truly just and efficient pre-trial detention process, we must have judicial or legislative intervention, along with more robust programming such as house arrest – which has been all but shut down by the courts since the COVID-19 emergency.”
Krasner emphasized the fact that “parties with such disparate interests as the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Defender Association of Philadelphia, and the District Attorney’s Office agree the cash bail system is unjust and overly punitive is not only historic, but an opportunity to make meaningful change in Pennsylvanians’ lives. It is disappointing that the state’s highest court has not met this moment.”
The Philadelphia DA made his disappointment clear, but then offered a solution to the problems which Philly jails are having, saying, “By working collaboratively with the Philadelphia Police, Defenders, and the First Judicial District, we have successfully prevented tragic coronavirus outbreaks in county jails.
“The jail population remains at historic lows, well under 4,000, and preliminary data show just 1 percent of people released during the first phase of COVID emergency motions were re-arrested for a violent offense. The low number of people re-arrested for non-serious offenses suggests alternatives to prosecution – such as addiction treatment – might be more suitable for this population.”
DA Krasner, though, has hope and a plan.
“In the absence of a cash bail system that allows prosecutors and magistrates to make individualized decisions, my office will continue to simulate a no-cash-bail system by seeking very high bails for the most serious and dangerous offenders and seeking bails that do not require cash for non-serious offenses in order to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in jails during the second wave of the pandemic in Philadelphia.”
The Philadelphia DA’s office is the largest prosecutor’s office in Pennsylvania, and one of the largest in the nation. It serves the more than 1.5 million citizens of the City and County of Philadelphia, employing 600 lawyers, detectives, and support staff. The District Attorney’s Office is responsible for prosecution of approximately 40,000 criminal cases annually.
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