For years, the Philadelphia court system has had trouble doing something basic: getting inmates from state prison into the courtroom to appear either as defendants or witnesses.
Now, that "bring-down problem" is being fixed.
Before the fix, city officials routinely canceled inmates' trips to the courts because Philadelphia didn't have enough local cells to hold them during trials.
This summer, state prison officials agreed to reserve cells at Graterford Prison in Montgomery County as temporary holding places for inmates subpoenaed to court. The cells hold about 100 prisoners.
State officials have begun transporting court-bound prisoners from various institutions around Pennsylvania to the dedicated cells. This paves the way for the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office to make daily runs to Graterford, just 35 miles from Philadelphia, to get inmates to court.
When the new system began in August, 16 prisoners were subpoenaed to appear in Philadelphia court on the first day and all but one made it to court, according to Assistant Managing Director Chip Junod, a member of Mayor Nutter's criminal justice team. Since then, the system has worked well, he said.
Junod, a former city prosecutor, worked with state prison officials, as well as the District Attorney's Office, the Defender Association, and the Sheriff's Office, to implement the change. It took a new state law to clear the way for Graterford to reserve the cells.
Previously, as many as a quarter of all subpoenaed defendants and witnesses from prisons were failing to show up on any given court day, Junod said. - Craig R. McCoy