When District Attorney Larry Krasner began his attack on cash bail shorty after he was elected in 2017, he tpromised he would soon show proof to support its elimination.
On Tuesday, the city's top prosecutor delivered his proof — and someone else’s — that it should be abolished entirely. Joining him at the press conference were Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council members Jannie Blackwell, Curtis Jones and Derek Green
Krasner’s office released its study on prosecutor-led bail reform along with an independent study by professors from the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University. Both appeared to corroborate the D.A.’s contention that the cash-bail system in Philadelphia is no longer viable.
“We changed our low-level bail policy because it was the right — and fair — thing to do for the poor, for people of color, and everyone in Philadelphia’s criminal justice system,” Krasner said at a City Hall press conference.
“What we had a year ago wasn’t fair, but after a year of use and a supportive third party review, I’m happy that we’ve made real progress for our city,” he added.
The bail reform efforts began in January 2018 when the D.A. office identified 25 non-violent or sex-related charges - representing 61 percent of all cases - where bail had been set below $1,000. Among the moves was to stop requiring bail for those offenses.
Since then, Krasner’s office reported, 1,750 arrestees have been released. There has been no rise in pretrial recidivism, no change in defendants appearing in court when required, and no increase in overall crime in 2018.
Despite a spike in the city's homicides — 351 in 2018, the highest since the 391 in 2007 — overall the there was a 5 percent decrease in violent crimes last year.
The independent study, done by Penn criminology professor Aurelie Ouss and George Mason law professor Megan Stevenson, titled "Evaluating the Impacts of Eliminating Prosecutorial Requests for Cash Bail" helped to back up Krasner's findings.
Looking at Philadelphia case data for the last 10 months, Ouss and Stevenson found that 1,700 fewer defendants were sent to jail before their first hearing, the number of defendants released on their own recognizance increased by 23 percent, the number of cases with bail amounts of $5,000 or less dropped by 41 percent and the number of eligible defendants who spent at least one night in jail dropped by 5 percent.
“We found that reducing the use of monetary bail for nonviolent offenders has no detectable effect on pretrial misconduct,” said Ouss. “We are encouraged to find that there are ways to reduce reliance on monetary bail without large adverse consequences.”
Many in the city government support Krasner’s efforts to eliminate the use of cash bail entirely, with exceptions being such offenses as large drug trafficking cases.
Eliminating cash bail has gained momentum across the nation. Last year, California became the first state to eliminate the process entirely. Other cities, such as Washington, D.C., and Norfolk, Va., have been attempting to reduce the cash bail system, which is mostly seen as punitive process that disproportionately punishes the poor.
The District of Columbia, whose program has been in place for several years, reported that just 12 percent of its defendants were denied any sort of bail in 2018. However, exceptions included those who committed seriously violent crimes or who were likely to commit more crimes.
“Reform efforts like ours are taking hold all across the country,” Kenney said. “The idea is to continue to invest in the people of our city and to make our city thrive.
"The goal is simple: to reduce racial, ethnic and economic disparities in our criminal justice system. This is a means to achieving that goal,” the mayor added.