ACLU of Pennsylvania Research Shows Philadelphia Courts Have Different Rules for Rich and Poor

Philadelphia Community Bail Fund

Now is the Time To End Money Bail and Release Far More Accused People Pretrial

Today, news outlets report that the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, as a result of extensive “court-watching” observation of hundreds of pretrial arraignment hearings in the First Judicial District Court, has submitted a letter to the courts objectively demonstrating that the court uses unaffordable cash bail to detains hundreds of Philadelphians before their trials, unfairly keeping people who are innocent until proven guilty away from families, homes, work, and community.

Below please find a joint statement from the #no215jail Coalition and the Philadephia Community Bail Fund:

This research from the ACLU confirms what we already know: cash bail is alive and well in Philadelphia and is causing devastating harm in the poorest big city in the United States.

According to the ACLU’s court-watching data, nearly half (42.5%) of people arraigned are still being given cash bail in our city. According to publicly released city data, around one in five people in Philly jails are currently there just because they cannot afford bail. An additional half of the jail population is held on a “detainer,” often just a violation of probation or parole. Altogether, over three-quarters of people in jail in Philadelphia are legally innocent and are awaiting a court date behind bars.

At the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, we continue to get calls from people currently in jail because they cannot afford to pay bails as low as $500. We also continue to see young people detained for long periods of time on extremely high bails, often over $100,000.  While we will post bail to get as many people free as we can, we know that hundreds of poor Black, Brown, and immigrant community members will continue to be caged as long as our city allows this unconstitutional and immoral use of bail to continue.

“The First Judicial District Court needs to be held accountable for the gross violations of basic human rights that bail magistrates are committing by regularly setting unaffordable bails. This practice keeps legally innocent people in cages for days, months and even years before they have even seen a judge,” said Devren Washington of the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund.  “We have seen the devastating impact of pre-trial detention on the people we post bail for: it has caused our people to lose jobs, housing, and even custody of their children. It is time that Philadelphia end the inhumane practice of putting poor people of color in cages pre-trial.”

We applaud the many recent policy efforts to reduce pretrial incarceration and reform bail in Philadelphia. We commend District Attorney Larry Krasner for taking first steps at bail reform this past February when he committed to asking his assistant DAs to stop seeking bail for some individuals and to ask for their release pretrial, and we commend the work of the implementation team of the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge for decreasing the jail population and launching the Early Bail Review program. This program has been extremely successful: the vast majority of people eligible for Early Bail Review are released at the 5 day hearing, and 90% of those released appear at their next court date.

We have closed a jail, expanded release for hundreds of people, and diverted more from arrest into the services they need - all without hurting public safety, with low levels of supervision and surveillance, and with high levels of attendance at court. Bail funds like ours here in Philadelphia have proven that people assigned unaffordable money bails come back to court and stay safe in the community with trust, care, and voluntary community-based supports. Now is the time to end the use of cash bail in Philadelphia, and to send thousands more people home pretrial.  Our success has proven we don’t need to replace bail with a risk assessment tool that would entrench racial bias, or through legislation that has the potential to fuel more mass incarceration, like California’s SB 10. We urge the First Judicial District, the District Attorney’s Office, and the city of Philadelphia to end cash bail now, and to release people pre-trial. We ask our leaders to restore humanity in a system that has for too long treated poor people of color as disposable and put a price tag on their freedom.

We have now posted bail for over 80 community members who have safety returned to their communities to await court with dignity.  Community bail funds across the country like ours have shown that if we support people in meeting their needs and accessing voluntary community-based supports, they are able to attend their court dates without any surveillance or dehumanizing electronic monitoring. We have seen that the vast majority of people will attend court dates with just a few simple supports like transportation and two-way text message reminders. We want to see the Judicial leadership in Philadelphia lead the way in eliminating all use of cash bail and drastically reducing pre-trial detention to bring our people home.

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The #No215Jail Coalition is fighting to end the use of cash bail in the City of Philadelphia. The #No215Jail Coalition is made up of organizations including the Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project, Decarcerate PA, Frontline Dads, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, The Center for Returning Citizens, Philadelphia Student Union, X-Offenders for Community Empowerment, the Human Rights Coalition, Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER), the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund and the Media Mobilizing Project.  The #No215Jail Coalition is an active member of the Coalition for a Just District Attorney.

The Philadelphia Community Bail Fund posts bail for residents of Philadelphia who cannot afford to pay bail and works to bring to light to the inequities of the use of cash bail in Philadelphia and to advocate for the abolition of bail and pretrial detention in our city. The Philadelphia Community Bail Fund is all volunteer-run, and is operated by grassroots organizers in the #No215Jail coalition, Black Lives Matter Philadelphia, Sankofa Community Empowerment, Frontline Dads, Media Mobilizing Project, the Caucus of Working Educators, Decarcerate PA and the Youth Art Self-Empowerment Project (YASP).