Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pew Report on Philly Prisons

Last week the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative released a report entitled, "Philadelphia’s Less Crowded, Less Costly Jails: Taking Stock of a Year of Change and the Challenges That Remain," a follow-up to a report issued in May 2010 called "Philadelphia’s Crowded, Costly Jails: The Search for Safe Solutions." The new report is available online as a 29 page pdf including some charts and graphs.

The gist is that over the past year the population of Philadelphia jails as declined. The decrease is attributed to some of the policies or policy changes implemented by the new city District Attorney, R. Seth Williams. Some of the findings are:

In 2010, the pretrial population accounted for 49 percent of the decrease in bed-days consumed, mostly due to the following factors:

· A modest decline in the number of arrests, which parallels a corresponding drop in violent crime.

· Reductions in the overall severity of charges leveled against the accused. This has been due in part to a new approach to deciding what charges to pursue in individual cases, implemented by District Attorney R. Seth Williams, now in his second year in office. When initial charges are less severe, lower bail may be imposed or none at all, resulting in fewer individuals being held pretrial.

· Creation of new programs to divert some less serious cases from the court system, with individuals often being fined or made to perform community service. Among these initiatives are the Accelerated Misdemeanor Program (AMP) and the Small Amount of Marijuana Program (SAM).

· A decrease in the number of admissions to jail on bench warrants, which call for the detention of individuals who fail to show up for court dates. One factor in the decline was not the result of any new practice or procedure. A computer problem caused thousands of new warrants not to show up in police checks for several months, meaning that people during that period were not picked up on warrants who otherwise would have been.

Thirty-nine percent of the overall drop in the jail population came from a reduction in bed-days consumed by those who were alleged to have violated the terms of their probation or parole. This decrease among violators of probation and parole is due to shorter incarcera­tions caused by a streamlining of the court process.

The sentenced population accounted for the remaining 12 percent of the drop, with lengths of jail-stays down here as well. This appears to be the continuing effect of a change in state law that has forced certain sentenced inmates to serve time in state prisons instead of the city jails. Increased use of alternative sentencing programs like electronic monitoring and mental health court may also have contributed to this decline.

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