Defendants seem to be treated more like numbers instead of people.

After each bail watching session, we ask that volunteers share their impressions of the bail process. Philly Bail Watch is, ultimately, a public awareness and advocacy tool, and our volunteers bring fresh eyes and hearts; their thoughts on what they observe are extremely valuable. We have posted full reflections in the past, but below are excerpts from some of our most recent bail watch sessions:

Many bail watchers were struck by the disparity between how they would like to be treated if they were a defendant facing a bail hearing and the treatment they observed in the basement of the Criminal Justice Center:

“Defendants seem to be treated more like numbers instead of people. If I was a defendant, I would like more time taken regarding my fate.”

“If I was a defendant, I would like to be heard if I had something to say. I would like to see and hear everyone who is part of making decisions. I would like to be able to address things I didn't understand.”

“I hope and pray that me or loved ones do not get caught up in [the criminal justice system].”

“The bail hearing takes place so fast, it is hard for anyone to keep track of what is going on. Imagine being a defendant, who can barely hear anything taking place watching on a small monitor.”

They noted, too, the impersonal, detached quality of the hearings:

“I think defendants were ‘herded’ through the process like cattle. The court seemed to want to quickly move from case to case in order to just be done with them.”

“Quite a few of the defenders were appointed a Public Defender right on the spot. That means they didn't get a chance to speak with anyone regarding the procedure and how it works. Is that really fair, especially if this is your first time?”

“These are people’s lives at stake, forced to sit through a video process where half of the time they cannot hear anything that is going on, being defended by a public defender they have never seen before or even had a chance to talk to.”

“There is simply no connection, or a general empathy, between the rights of a defendant (a person) and the magistrate (the authoritative) during the bail hearing procedures.”

“I was left to wonder, how can justice be served in any school of court, when true justice appears cold, and unfair? I asked myself, is there a way a magistrate would understand what a defendant’s extenuating circumstances are, or if they consider a defendant’s demographic situation, or a defendant’s level of cognition or mental health of a defendant. I would answer that they do not. I strongly believe that there is an extreme level of blatant unfairness, and bias judgement and a disrespect towards defendants during bail hearings.”

And one bail watcher reflected on his prior involvement with the criminal justice system, and the greater implications of cash bail:

“Sadly having gone through this process myself in my younger years, nothing surprised me. It's sad that people are treated as a case number rather than a human being. Bail only favors those who can afford it. Which is few and far between. Defendants are put in positions where it's easier to plead guilty and ‘take a deal’ just to go home, because otherwise they can sit for years without ever being charged for a crime.”

Disclaimer: The views of Philadelphia Bail Watch volunteers do not necessarily reflect the views of the Philadelphia Bail Fund and/or Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. Sign up to volunteer with Philadelphia Bail Watch here