The Philadelphia district attorney recently announced that certain criminal defendants will no longer have to pay cash bail. The district attorney's office hopes that this new policy will address socioeconomic and racial inequalities caused by the present pre-trial system. The district attorney notes that the cash bail system disproportionately affects low-income people and people of color.
The new policy applies to people charged with 25 low-level offenses, including possession with intention to distribute five pounds or less of marijuana, providing false identification to law enforcement, prostitution, resisting arrest, fraud in obtaining food stamps and public assistance and identity theft. People are often kept in custody for months even though their cases were eventually dismissed because they could not afford to pay cash bail. According to the district attorney, the current legal system is a form of imprisonment for poverty, with people who committed non-violent offenses being held because they cannot afford to pay bail.
Those charged with a crime in Pennsylvania must typically appear for a bail hearing where an amount for bail is set. The new policy will allow them to be released pending court proceedings, special conditions or a signed promise to pay an unsecured bail in the event they violate the terms of their release. Many defendants who had faced up to $10,000 bail will now be exempt under the new policy.
The district attorney notes that for every day a criminal defendant spends in custody for a nonviolent, minor offense, it costs $130. The new policy will not only save taxpayers money but will also allow nonviolent criminal defendants who will likely show up for court to remain free pending court proceedings. The president of the Philadelphia NAACP praises the policy, citing examples of similar policy implementation in other states that have helped to reduce the prison population.
Source: The Philadelphia Tribune, Krasner ends cash bail for certain crimes, February 22, 2018