We've been meaning to mention for a couple of days now this recent report by Pew's Philadelphia Research Initiative on Philadelphia's jails. To accompany the release of the report, Pew held a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. As Dan-UA at Young Philly Politics recounts, there were a lot of legal big shots in attendance:
There was a panel that included Seth Williams, Everett Gillison, Michael Jacobson, Director of NYC's Vera Institute of Justice and the Rev. Ernest McNear. And in the audience, audience, asking and answering questions were a pretty amazing array of people, from Ellen Greenlee, Pamela Dembe, the President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas and Seamus McCaffery, to Third Circuit Chief Judge, Ted McKee and Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla.
I believe the event was taped, and when I find a link I will put it up. It really was something to have a gathering of so many stakeholders and judges, that a submitted question from the audience comes from the Chief Judge of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Additionally striking was that there seemed to be such broad agreement among the big shots over a central tenet of the report: Philadelphia can reduce the population in and cost of its prison system without compromising public safety. How? One factor is that much of our jail system's overcrowding has to do with people being held pre-trial, rather than convicted criminals. If we improve the way we deal with release, bail and probation violations as they relate to non-violent criminals, we can make a big dent in the problem.
Here, then, is the next question: If there is such broad agreement among stakeholders, shouldn't the city be able to actually move in the recommended direction? In fact, maybe some of the public officials who came out to the event could set some dates for implementing some of the specific policy recommendations made by Pew.
We don't mean to suggest making these changes will be easy -- certainly no individual judge wants to take a lead in releasing more arrestees on their own recognizance, for fear that one of them might go shoot someone. But if the consensus is there, that means it's Go Time.
This seems like a great opportunity to link back to Tom Namako's great story describing what it's like inside Philly's overcrowded jails.