Press Release & Report
Philadelphia Bail Fund and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts release philly bail watch REPORT
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Philadelphia Bail Fund, firstname.lastname@example.org, 917-658-3244
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, email@example.com, 215-569-1150
Philadelphia, PA - The Philadelphia Bail Fund and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts released their Philly Bail Watch™ report today, using voices from Philadelphia citizens to highlight the need for fundamental reform of Philadelphia’s pretrial justice system. The organizations launched Philly Bail Watch, the bail hearing-specific court watch program, in April of 2018, in an effort to shed light on the current preliminary arraignment (bail hearing) process in Philadelphia through volunteer observation of preliminary arraignment hearings.
“We present this report in an effort to highlight the public’s strong objections to the current bail proceedings in Philadelphia,” said Cal Barnett-Mayotte, volunteer with the Philadelphia Bail Fund. “The Bail Watch report highlights serious concerns with Philadelphia’s bail hearings, including the dehumanizing and impersonal use of video conferencing to conduct hearings, inadequate access to counsel, inconsistencies in magistrates’ decision-making, racial disparity, and the use of ‘bail guidelines’ which result in unaffordable cash bail. We hope that responsible policymakers will read this report and implement the report’s recommendations to create real reform.”
“Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts hopes that the Philly Bail Watch report will be a catalyst for a robust dialogue in Pennsylvania about how best to improve our preliminary arraignment process,” said Maida R. Milone, PMC’s President and CEO. “We see our partnership with the Philly Bail Fund as a natural outgrowth of our PMC Watches™, a suite of court monitoring programs that give citizens glimpses into the formal and informal structures of justice in Philadelphia and beyond.”
The report synthesizes the feedback of more than 75 volunteers who observed over 600 bail hearings at the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice between April 19, 2018 and August 31, 2018.
“Preliminary arraignment hearings in Philadelphia are held in the basement of the criminal courthouse, and while they occur every day, around the clock, they go largely unseen and unnoticed by the public,” said Christina Matthias, a volunteer with the Philadelphia Bail Fund. “The Philly Bail Watch report lifts up the voices of Philadelphia residents and Philadelphia Bail Fund clients as they confront the unjust proceedings that result in thousands of Philadelphians being caged each year simply because they are poor.”
“There was an overwhelming consensus among volunteers that Philadelphia’s preliminary arraignment system undermines the rights and dignity of people charged with crimes,” said Zoe Goldberg, a volunteer with the Philadelphia Bail Fund. “Cash bail threatens one of the most sacred principles in our nation’s criminal justice system: that a person is innocent until proven guilty.”
“The exceptional work done by the volunteers has illuminated the unseen, unreported preliminary arraignment process that takes place around the clock in the basement of the Criminal Justice Center,” said Milone. “PMC supports adoption of the report’s recommendations designed to provide a more humane and dignified pretrial process.”
Philly Bail Watch launched in April, shortly after District Attorney Krasner’s February 2018 announcement that the DA’s office would no longer seek cash bail for certain charges. The Philly Bail Watch program demonstrates how limited these changes are in practice. “Volunteers continue to observe money bail requested and set in 42% of cases,” said Malik Neal, Vice President of the Philadelphia Bail Fund. “The findings of Philly Bail Watch are important to help set the media narrative straight: cash bail is still used excessively in Philadelphia.”
Philly Bail Watch observations in the report also took place following recent pilot initiatives instituted in Philadelphia as part of the City’s participation in the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge, including a bail advocate program run by the Philadelphia Defender Association and an early bail review program run by the First Judicial District. “While recent pilot initiatives by Philadelphia criminal justice policymakers are a step in the right direction, our observations make clear that these initiatives are not sufficient and are an inadequate substitute for systemic reform,” said Maia Jachimowicz, President of the Philadelphia Bail Fund. “Defendants are not consistently informed about the preliminary arraignment process, they rarely have a chance to speak with an attorney before or during their bail hearing and many people are still being given unaffordable bail. Our report outlines many current practices that require immediate reform.”