The problem

In Philadelphia, two people accused of the same crime face very different circumstances depending on their access to money. A person who cannot afford to pay bail will be detained in a city jail for an average of 100 days before appearing before a judge to have his/her case heard. Someone with the funds to afford bail will remain free over this same period of time. Before sentencing, both individuals are legally presumed innocent until proven guilty. The difference is that one has been locked up before trial because he/she is too poor to afford bail while the other has remained free.

This system strips people who are poor of their presumption of innocence and causes great economic and psychological harm to them and their families. Justice is being denied in this way to thousands of people every year in Philadelphia.

The FActs

  • Research shows that just three days in jail makes people more likely to lose their jobs and housing, be separated from their families, and commit crimes in the future.

  • Inability to pay bail forces people to plead guilty to get out of jail, even if they are innocent and the evidence against them is weak. Defendants are nine times more likely to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge if they cannot pay bail.

  • People who are held on bail receive longer sentences than those who can afford to post bail for the same crimes.

  • In Philadelphia, more than 70% of the 5,198 inmates detained in the city’s jails as of May 31, 2018 have not been convicted; they are merely awaiting trial. The annual cost of detaining the jail population has, in previous years, amounted to roughly $126 million to the City of Philadelphia.


The goal of the Philadelphia Bail Fund is to eliminate money bail in Philadelphia. Ending the injustice of money bail requires shifting Philadelphia’s bail system from one that is based on wealth to a fairer and more effective system based on a presumption of release before trial, except in the most exceptional circumstances.


The Philadelphia Bail Fund pays bail at the earliest possible moment for people who are indigent and cannot afford bail — ideally before they are transferred from their holding cell to jail. The Philadelphia Bail Fund also subjects the impact of its work to evaluation and uses the results to educate policymakers and lobby for reform.

To contribute, you can donate online or by check.