(Image via The Philadelphia Gay News)
Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
We’re back after a holiday hiatus. And we’ll start this new working week by hoping that this third day of 2022 finds you and yours happy, healthy and rested for what will surely be a consequential year.
Criminal justice reformers in Pennsylvania and across the nation have spent the past few years training their sights on cash bail, a system that at least one Keystone State lawmaker has denounced as a ‘de facto debtor’s prison’ that can have ruinous and far-reaching consequences long after a person’s involvement with the criminal justice system has come to an end.
A recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania took an in-depth look at the use of cash bail in the Keystone State, finding that local magisterial district justices “routinely” set bail that people can’t afford, triggering a “cascade of harmful consequences,” that includes increasing the possibility of someone’s future arrest.
Among its top findings:
- “Cash bail was the most common type of bail set across Pennsylvania, and set nearly twice as often as release on recognizance (ROR), the least restrictive type of bail.” And of the people assigned cash bail, “more than half … did not post it and remained incarcerated.
- “Some counties rarely assign release on recognizance,” and “bail practices varied widely even among the magisterial district justices who serve in the same county,” and
- “[Magisterial district justices impose cash bail more frequently and in higher amounts for Black people].”
“Cash bail is a primary driver of pretrial incarceration. When assigned cash bail, an accused person must pay a sum of money to obtain their release,” the report’s authors concluded.
“Cash bail keeps poor people incarcerated, while those with means can purchase their freedom. Cash bail also perpetuates systemic racism as judges more often assign unaffordable cash bail to Black people facing charges than white people,” they wrote. “Black and Latinx people accused of crimes face far greater risk of pretrial incarceration.”
The ACLU-PA’s report includes data from 2016-17, the most recent year for which it was available before the state’s Clean Slate Law went on the books.
The ACLU’s report found that cash bail amounts varied wildly across the state. Armstrong County had the lowest average amount at $15,099, while Bucks County had the highest average, at $77,462. One magisterial district justice [MDJ] in the suburban Philadelphia County had the highest average amount of all, clocking in at more than $600,000, the report found.
Statewide, the average was $38,433, which is more than half the average household income in the state, researchers found. As a result of those punitively high amounts, “in the two-year period between 2016 and 2017, more than 97,000 cases occurred in which the defendant remained incarcerated until trial,” the report’s authors concluded.
And if you think this is just a “Philadelphia thing,” think again.
According to the report, cash bail was as likely to be assigned in rural counties as it was in the state’s urban centers. And “this trend is consistent with mounting research showing that the geography of mass incarceration is shifting: big cities no longer have the highest incarceration rates,” the report found.
While rates varied by county, and even among MDJs in the same county, what was consistent, however, was a gap in racial equity in the assignment of cash bail.
“Among Black defendants accused of a crime, MDJs set cash bail in 55.2% of cases. In comparison, among white defendants accused of a crime, MDJs imposed cash bail in 38.5% of cases. MDJs imposed cash bail on Black defendants more frequently, and they also imposed higher amounts of bail — on average, $12,866 more,” the report found.
That disparity was the most severe in rural Somerset County in southwestern Pennsylvania, where the rate of cash bail among Black defendants “was three times the rate for white people,” the report found. And when Black defendants were assigned cash bail, the amount they had to pay was more than double that of white defendants, researchers concluded.
The report makes a number of recommendations for reform. They include:
- Requring MDJs to “set ROR (release on recognizance) in far more cases and use the least restrictive conditions necessary to guarantee future appearance,” and that,
- “MDJs must follow the guidance of the Constitution and the Rules of Criminal Procedure as the norm and use pretrial detention as the carefully limited exception.”
- Requiring the “Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to promote transparency by analyzing bail data on a regular basis.”
- Requiring county president judges to “exercise supervisory authority over the magisterial district judges whom they oversee” by [ordering] procedural audits to assess whether MDJ practices conform with the law.” And it suggests that,
- “Courts and jails must work together to install safeguards that guarantee no person is incarcerated only because they are unable to pay bail,” the report concludes.
Lee, who is now seeking the Democratic nomination for the Pittsburgh-based 18th Congressional District, wrote in a “Dear Colleague” memo that the state’s current system “too often centers on an individual’s ability to pay rather than the individual’s risk to public safety.”
“Because it includes no review of one’s ability to pay monetary bail, it frequently assigns cash bail to those who do not have the means to pay for release,” Lee wrote of her yet-to-be introduced legislation. “This leads to lengthy periods of imprisonment, sometimes years, putting employment, housing, child custody and other means of a stable and productive life at risk.”
Nationwide, the reform movement continues. Both New Jersey and Washington D.C. only use cash bail in certain situations, while, “New York and Alaska have moved towards banning cash bail but since rolled back their plans,” WUWM-FM in Wisconsin reported last April.
And the bottom line from the ACLU-PA?
“When a person is incarcerated before their trial, they lose more than just their liberty. Pretrial detention also triggers a cascade of harmful consequences. After just a few days in jail, a person can lose their job, access to medical care, custody of their children, and even their homes. These consequences reverberate for years. Individual lives, families and communities are devastated,” the report’s authors wrote.
It’s a New Year. You’ve probably made some resolutions. Well, they’re going to be even harder to keep. Cassie Miller explains why in the first Numbers Racket of 2022.
In a special report, our friends at Cronkite News explain how the Navajo Nation is waging its battle against COVID-19, and why it seems to be working.
Candidates who are fighting 2020 misinformation are running to administer local elections, Capital-Star Democracy Reporter Kira Lerner writes.
Stephen Caruso chats with 2022 GOP gubernatorial hopeful Guy Ciarrocchi, who outlines his plans to ‘jumpstart’ the state’s economy.
And state lawmakers are reintroducing legislation for eating disorder awareness and the resources to fight it, in Pennsylvania’s schools, Marley Parish reports.
The Inquirer has what you need to know about Philadelphia’s vaccine mandate, which starts today.
The Post-Gazette previews today’s swearing-in of Pittsburgh Mayor-elect Ed Gainey, the city’s first Black chief executive.
PennLive takes a look at 10 things, including beer and Turnpike tolls, that will be more expensive in 2022.
LancasterOnline updates on the legal status of five people charged in the Jan. 6 insurrection, which turns a year old this week.
The Morning Call previews the construction projects that will reshape Allentown in 2022 (subscriber-only).
The York Daily Record runs down the 10 projects in York County that are a very big deal.
Forty Fort Mayor Andy Tuzinski will not seek a third term, the Citizens’ Voice reports.
Montgomery County will count the number of county residents who are experiencing homelessness, WHYY-FM reports.
As statewide infections hit a high, Penn State says its spring semester will be in-person, WPSU-FM reports (via WITF-FM).
Starting Tuesday, Erie County schools will start enforcing their own mask policies, GoErie reports (paywall).
In a bid to appease U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the Senate’s version of the budget bill boosts energy tax credits and trims tax increases, Roll Call reports.
Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:
What Goes On
11 a.m., Capitol Media Center: The state Department of Human Services and the Public Utility Commission hold a news conference reminding people to sign up for the Low Income Heating Assistance Program.
Gov. Tom Wolf virtually attends Pittsburgh Mayor-elect Ed Gainey’s swearing-in ceremony at 1 p.m.
You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Have. a birthday you’d like observed in this space? A new year beckons. Email me at [email protected].
We’ll ease back into the working week with the very chill ‘Crystal Lake,’ from Pacific Latitudes.
Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
In their first game in 13 days, the Winnipeg Jets slipped past the Las Vegas Golden Knights 5-4 in overtime on Sunday night. The struggling Jets sit in 5th place in the NHL’s Western Division, eight points behind first-place St. Louis.
And now you’re up to date.
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