STATEMENT: FJD takes important step on bail, but complicates detainer issue

The statement below can be attributed to the #No215Jail Coalition and the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund.

#No215Jail Coalition and Philadelphia Community Bail Fund statement on First Judicial District Announcement Ending Practice of Keeping 30% of Accused People's Bail Fees

Up until today, Philadelphia courts kept 30% of all bail fees paid by individuals who were accused of a crime, regardless of the outcome of their cases. Today, after many years of pressure from the community, Philadelphia courts have agreed to return 100% of bail when people show up for court.

We are heartened by this step the courts are taking to no longer use bail fees to profit off of poverty. We hope the First Judicial District will continue to make changes to waive all court fines and fees for individuals who do not have the ability to pay, while also conducting a thorough and meaningful investigation into a person's ability to pay before assigning bail or charging fees.

While this is undoubtedly a positive change, it will not get people out of jail. Hundreds of people are still held in Philly jails simply because they cannot afford their freedom. We hope the FJD will end the practice of wealth-based detention altogether.

We are alarmed by another announcement made today by the court. At the same time they released their new rules on bail fees, the court also announced that they are rescinding Rule 910.

Rule 910 requires the courts to hold hearings before issuing a detainer on someone for a violation of probation or parole conditions. Rather than abiding by this rule and ensuring that defendants experience some measure of due process before having their freedom taken away, the court has instead chosen to simply eliminate the rule they had long ignored.

One of the biggest drivers of the jail population has been the illegal lodging of automatic detainers by the courts without hearings. The Chief Public Defender recently brought Rule 910 to the attention of the First Judicial District in a memo detailing how the courts have been illegally issuing automatic detainers in violation of the rule.

For the court to eliminate Rule 910 without any explanation does not provide confidence that they have an intention of reforming our probation/parole and detainer system. We are concerned that by removing this rule, the courts can continue to hold people accused of probation violations without a hearing and without any opportunity for release. We fear the courts have coupled a long overdue positive policy change with an even more pernicious, inhumane one that will give them ever more ability to cage humans at will. Rather than eliminate Rule 910, the First Judicial District should enforce the rule and discontinue the unconstitutional practice of lodging automatic detainers.

We thank the First Judicial District, powerful advocates on the City Council level, and all city decision-makers for this important move to no longer profit off of bail money from Philadelphia’s poorest communities, and congratulate everyone who advocated for this change. We are hopeful that meaningful reforms which actually reduce the number of people incarcerated will soon be enacted. And we ask the First Judicial District, including Judges Wood-Skipper and Neifield, to meet with us, especially our advocates and those we have bailed out who have been impacted by detainers and onerous money bails, as they pursue meaningful reforms on these issues."

The #No215Jail Coalition is made up of organizations including the Institute for Community Justice, Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project, Decarcerate PA, Frontline Dads, 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), and the Media Mobilizing Project.

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.