Two weeks after an Inquirer investigation revealed that the Philadelphia Department of Prisons released nearly three-quarters of people from jail without their IDs, cash, or phones, the department has announced it will allow incarcerated people to be discharged earlier in the evening and with all of their belongings.
“Anyone released after the close of their facility’s Cashier’s Office will now receive their property at their facility,” Prison Commissioner Blanche Carney wrote in a letter to the editor published Monday in The Inquirer.
In Philadelphia’s jail system, Cashier’s Offices store people’s belongings while they are incarcerated.
At least one observer was impressed by the announced change.
“This is a good example of a system listening and responding in a way that looks like it will make a big difference,” said Ann Jacobs, director of the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
An Inquirer analysis of data revealed that 73% of people — or nearly 16,000 prisoners — were released after the Cashier’s Office had closed, leaving them without identification, cash, phone, or other possessions for hours or even days.
Hours after that analysis was published, Carney announced that the department would extend Cashier’s Office hours until 7 p.m. at four of the city’s five jails.
By itself, that would have reduced the number of people released without their valuables by only 1%, an Inquirer analysis revealed.
The procedures announced Monday are more comprehensive.
Every person released from jail will receive their possessions in the facility where they were incarcerated, regardless of time, department spokesperson Mallie Salerno said.
Those who need cash returned will be driven to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, Philadelphia’s largest jail, to retrieve their money from a prison staffer regardless of the time of night, Salerno said.
Additionally, prison staff will check with the Philadelphia court system every 15 minutes to see if new release paperwork has been processed. This should allow the discharge process to start as early as possible each day.
Cashier’s Offices will remain open until 7 p.m. at four of the city’s five jails, and until 8:30 p.m. at Curran-Fromhold, but the updates to the release procedures mean most will get out before 9 p.m., Carney wrote.
However, the department cannot guarantee that every person is released before 9 p.m., Salerno said. Prisoners who have bail posted at odd times of night must be released shortly thereafter, she said. But regardless of time, they will have their cash, ID and other belongings under the announced changes, she said.
Ensuring that the changes remain in place will require “collaborative vigilance," said Jacobs.
“You can’t rest on your laurels,” she said. “What we know about any kind of systems change is that it changes as long as it’s being observed and measured.”
Experts say the first 72 hours after an inmate is released are critical. Without identification and other possessions, simple things such as buying food, getting prescriptions, and putting a cell phone number down for a job interview or a landlord can prove impossible.
With the changes, the newly freed people should be off to a better start, said Jacobs. “People are leaving more intact with their things and a way to get to the next place.”