BUILDING BETTER JUSTICE
AND IT DOESN'T MEAN MORE JAIL CELLS
THE NEW PRE-TRIAL-diversion program announced this week by the District Attorney's Office is another good tool that can help bring the city's criminal-justice system under control.
And so, too, is the Philadelphia Prison System Strategic Plan, released yesterday by Prison Commissioner Lou Giorla, with recommendations to reduce overcrowding and recidivism. It calls for more use of day centers, house arrest with global- positioning tracking, and expansion of drug-treatment court.
But tools themselves aren't enough to fix a creaky house: To be effective, they have to be put in the hands of a skilled craftsman who knows what each can do and how to use them. He also has to have a vision of what the final project will look like.
In this case, the craftsman won't be one person, but the Criminal Justice Advisory Board. Announced last month at the same ceremony in which Mayor Nutter signed an executive order for the prison report, it should be where the city's criminal-justice community (police, sheriff, district attorney, judges, prison officials, probation and parole officers and lawyers) will plan, communicate and share ideas.
The D.A.'s Alternative Treatment for Misdemeanants program began in March, and is much like other D.A. diversions - such as the drug-treatment and gun courts, and domestic-violence programs - that steer eligible defendants toward treatment. The program allows people who are charged with retail theft, prostitution or drug possession, and who haven't been on probation or parole for a violent crime in 10 years or a nonviolent crime for five, to get treatment and job training.
This isn't being soft on crime; it's being practical. Many people, in light of the murder of police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski, see no need to cut any offenders a break. (State Reps. John Perzel, George Kenney and John Taylor are expected to propose legislation today that strengthens the parole system for repeat violent offenders.)
Our prisons are filled with people facing nominal charges, or have addictions or mental illness.
Giorla's report notes that strong collaboration among the criminal-justice community is needed to ease prison overcrowding. But cooperation and oversight are especially needed to avoid duplicity or wasted efforts if we are to effectively reform a criminal-justice system fraught with problems.*