Press Release & Report
Court watch observations show shortcomings in Krasner’s promise to end cash bail
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Philadelphia Bail Fund, 267-961-3391
PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Bail Fund released data from the observation of 125 recent bail hearings today, highlighting the role of the District Attorney’s Office in consistently setting unaffordable cash bail despite District Attorney Larry Krasner’s public comments about the injustices of bail and his campaign promise to end the practice in Philadelphia.
Volunteers tracked bail requests made by the District Attorney representative during preliminary arraignments and the bail amounts ultimately set by the magistrate. Of the 125 hearings, which occurred in March and April of this year, there was not a single case in which the DAO representative requested a bail amount lower than what the magistrate ultimately set. In fact, on occasion, the magistrate described the DAO’s bail requests as “punitive” and “ridiculous.”
In 70% of the cases where cash bail was set (30 of 44 cases), the District Attorney’s Office representative requested higher bail than what was issued by the magistrate. In another 20% of cases (9 cases), the District Attorney’s Office representative did not offer a recommendation or none was heard.
“These observations show the clear power that the District Attorney’s office holds in determining bail outcomes,” said Zoe Goldberg, a volunteer with the Philadelphia Bail Fund. “Their requests serve as an anchor for the magistrate’s decision. If they lowered their requests or stopped requesting bail altogether, we might see more transformative reform of a system that punishes people for their poverty.”
In 93% of cases observed where cash bail was set (41 of 44 cases), the defendant was assigned a public defender due to indigence.
“In order to assign a person a public defender or court-appointed attorney, the court must make a finding that a person is indigent and unable to afford an attorney,” said Maia Jachimowicz, Philadelphia Bail Fund board president. “At that point, the court actors know that any meaningful amount of money is likely to hold a person in jail. We believe this is wrong and a clear violation of the presumption of innocence.”
In February of 2018, Krasner announced that the DAO would stop seeking bail for 25 low-level crimes. An independent study by George Mason law professor Megan Stevenson and Penn criminology professor Aurelie Ouss published earlier this year showed that this policy did not impact the failure to appear rate or recidivism despite more people being released without bail. Even with these supportive findings, no new bail reforms have been introduced by the District Attorney’s Office since the February 2018 policy change. The Defender Association of Philadelphia, however, has since presented the courts and the District Attorney’s Office with a plan to end cash bail in Philadelphia without a controversial algorithmic risk assessment. To date, the District Attorney’s Office has not stated publicly how exactly they plan to support this new plan.
“We’re asking the District Attorney’s Office: Why isn’t more being done now?” said Cal Barnett-Mayotte, a volunteer with the Philadelphia Bail Fund. “It’s clear there is room for prosecutors to help change the system, and Krasner claims publicly to want to do just that. Yet our observations stand in stark contrast to what we expect from a progressive DA’s office that promised to end money bail in Philadelphia. We urge the District Attorney’s Office to place its full support behind the Defender Association’s comprehensive plan to eliminate money bail in Philadelphia.”
In every single case observed in which the District Attorney’s Office representative requested ROR (Release on Recognize) or SOB (Sign on Bond), those release conditions were granted. There were two instances in which the District Attorney’s Office representative appealed the magistrate's decision to release a person on ROR or SOB following a request for cash bail from the District Attorney’s representative. In those two instances, the District Attorney’s Office’s appeal resulted in a judge assigning cash bail to a person the magistrate deemed could go free.
“While the courts remain a significant obstacle to ending cash bail, the widespread narrative that they are the only obstacle is false and misleading,” said Malik Neal, Philadelphia Bail Fund board vice president. “On the contrary, based on our recent observations, magistrates consistently assign less punitive bails than Krasner’s office requests. There is clearly a gap between Krasner’s progressive rhetoric and what happens daily in the basement of the Criminal Justice Center.”
These new observations build on the organization’s Philadelphia Bail Watch report, released in October of 2018 in partnership with Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. The October report, which included observations from the public on 611 bail hearings, revealed that bail was still used excessively in Philadelphia and proposed recommendations for reform of the process.
“We think it’s incredibly important to continue to educate the public, observe bail hearings, and make our findings known,” said Christina Matthias, a volunteer with the Philadelphia Bail Fund. “Our hope is that this type of accountability and pressure will push stakeholders towards a fairer, more just system than money bail.”
About the Philadelphia Bail Fund
The Philadelphia Bail Fund is a 501(c)(3) charitable bail organization that was founded in May 2017. The Philadelphia Bail Fund prevents unnecessary pretrial detention by paying bail for Philadelphians who cannot afford their own bail and advocates for the end of cash bail in Philadelphia. The Fund pays bail at the earliest stage - ideally before they are transferred from their holding cell to jail - for people who are indigent and cannot afford bail. The goal of the Philadelphia Bail Fund is to shift 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. You can access the Philadelphia Bail Watch report, published October 15, 2018 here.