By Afea Tucker
The Defender Association of Philadelphia launched its Pre-Entry Coalition initiative at the Bonnell Auditorium at Community College of Philadelphia on Thursday.
The coalition is a network of community-based organizations united to serve as a system of support for people who have been arrested.
According to the Defender Association, about 45 percent of arrests in Philadelphia result in no conviction, and four of every 10 people convicted are not sentenced to prison.
The pre-entry system and coalition aims to address the root causes of behavior, give the communities most impacted by crime and mass incarceration a greater voice in the criminal justice system and increase public safety by reducing recidivism.
The theme of the Defender Association’s Ted Talk-style discussion during the coalition’s launch was “Community Connections, Not Confinement.” Speakers included Keir Bradford-Grey, chief defender for the Defender Association of Philadelphia; Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., 4th District; Cherri Gregg, community affairs reporter at KYW Newsradio; Sarah Allen, chief of the Municipal Court Pretrial Unit at the Defender Association; Evan Dubchansky, client advocate at the Defender Association; LaTonya Myers, bail navigator at the Defender Association; and Joseph Lucas, Philadelphia resident, father and past client.
“When Keir became chief defender, she restructured the office. The bail advocate position expanded to working with early bail review hearings,” Allen said.
“During the interviews we realized there was still value in arguing [to improve the] structure of bail hearings,” she said. “Many of us understand re-entry and the benefit of having programs that assist folks who are re-entering into society, but the support on the front end is just as needed.”
A person who is arrested waits 18 to 24 hours to appear in front of a bail magistrate who determines if the person will be released or sets a cash bail, Allen said.
“If you have money you get out, but poor clients get stuck only because they can’t afford the bail,” she said. “A lot of clients go up to jail on incredibly minor bail and then they sit five days before they go in front of another judge who [takes] a second look at their bail. [Sometimes] we argue that there isn’t a need for a monetary bail if the person arrested is given the support they need.”
The coalition aims to be a resource that will encourage people to have more faith in the legal system as a whole.
“Most people feel like the system set them up to fail because of inequality,” Allen said.
The Defender Association is working to get the word out to as many organizations as it can. Organizations that can provide assistance and services can make the difference between someone who loses everything and someone who is supported. Those organizations also help bridge the gap of pre-entry services and provide people with more support on the front end, reducing the number of people who wait in jail and the number of individuals and families whose lives are destroyed.
Myers, the bail navigator, said she would usually receive a file within five days of an arrest. After reviewing the information, she conducts an interview which includes discussing a post-release plan.
“It is important to know if a person is at risk of losing something or has lost something. It can be a job or their children,” she said.
“The first question I ask is, do you have a post-release plan? I then work with the attorney for bailing, the EBR [early bail review] hearing and contacting the family,” she said. “I’m not just here to help you get home, I’m here to help you stay home.”
Afea Tucker is a correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.