Score another one for government reform.
The Prothonotary's Office is close to shedding a longtime practice that has infuriated the families and friends of many Philadelphia prison inmates.
Until now, prison officials have had to wait until at least 6 p.m. each night to find out what happened in court that day regarding about 350 inmates with hearings scheduled at the Criminal Justice Center.
But mothers, fathers, and anyone else who personally attended the courtroom proceedings learned the fate of their loved ones as soon as a judge announced a decision.
That leads to some frustrations when family members, for example, call the prison system and ask why someone acquitted hours earlier is still in jail.
Answer: Because no one had yet informed the prison system.
That time lag is expected to shrink considerably with a new computer program that will simultaneously send the outcomes of cases to both court and prison officials.
The new practice is expected to begin Tuesday.
"Like video 'crash court' and video 'traffic court,' where judges conduct hearings by remote video with inmates in our facilities," prison spokesman Robert Eskind said, "we continue to work with the courts to make the best use of courtroom technology and reduce length of stay."
In other words, yes, miracles can happen.
- Marcia Gelbart
City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez has led the fight to stop the city from charging organizers of the city's large ethnic parades and festivals for police to control traffic and keep the peace, and she was on hand last week when U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.) announced a gift of $300,000 to the groups to pay for setup and cleanup costs.
In doing so, Quiñones Sánchez has taken heat from the Nutter administration and others for an alleged indifference to the city's painful fiscal crunch, which, in the last two years, has resulted in a property-tax increase of just under 10 percent and an increase in the sales tax from 7 percent to 8 percent. Police costs for parades over the last two years alone total more than $590,000, according to the Nutter administration.
But Quiñones Sánchez said she was sensitive to the city's crisis, and she has offered her own way to save city costs for parades - build festival plazas when redoing city parks, eliminating the need to close down streets and redirect traffic for large events.
In that spirit, Quiñones Sánchez is pursuing an $800,000 remaking of Fairhill Square at North Fourth Street and Lehigh Avenue. The capital project is funded with a $400,000 state grant and $400,000 from the city's capital budget, Quiñones Sánchez said.
Key is a design that puts a performance stage at one end of the central rotunda, allowing for seating in the middle of the park. The annual Dominican Festival would be a natural for the neighborhood, she said.
Quiñones Sánchez hopes to start the project in March and see it done by the end of spring. She is proposing that the city match development money from Council members to encourage similar park improvements within the city's 10 Council districts.