Reforms Help Cut Philly Jail Inmates 18% in Two Years

An early bail release program is one of 19 planned in a three-year plan to slash the jail population 34 percent, with the help of a MacArthur Foundation grant.

On an average day, there are 1,500 fewer inmates in the Philadelphia jail system than there were just two years ago, reports Philadelphia still has the highest incarceration rate per capita of the top 10 U.S. cities. The city says it is all-in on criminal justice reform. A year into an aggressive plan to decrease the jail count, the number of inmates in its six facilities has decreased 18 percent since July 2015. The city was awarded $3.5 million by the MacArthur Foundation for a three-year plan to slash the prison population by 34 percent. A coalition of leaders in the criminal justice community developed a plan with six strategies and 19 programs. Of those, 12 have begun, and officials cite those them as major reasons for the prison population decrease from over 8,000 in 2015 to 6,604 at the end of May.

An early bail program launched in July 2016 allows case review within five days for individuals in jail for non-violent offenses who have bails of $50,000 or less and no other reason to be held in prison. This gives people an opportunity for early release, rather than forcing them to remain in custody because they can’t afford a relatively small bail. Some 84 percent of defendants who received an Early Bail Review hearing were granted release and, of those, 90 percent appeared at their next court date. The program is estimated to have saved more than 50,000 “jail inmate bed days” since its inception. Officials are looking to implement a new “risk tool” that uses updated stats and historical data to estimate the risk of failure to appear in court and new arrests for incarcerated individuals. Most criminal justice reformers favor ditching cash bail altogether.  That will be more likely if Democratic nominee for District Attorney Larry Krasner, a staunch reformer, wins in November.