STUDY: Curbing Cash Bail Has Had No Significant Negative Impact On The Crime Rate In Philadelphia

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BY SEAN HECK One year after the implementation of their cash bail reduction plan for low-level offenses, Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner and Mayor Jim Kenney announced the success of their groundbreaking new policy at a press conference yesterday at City Hall. “We changed our low-level bail policy because it was the right, and fair, thing to do for the poor, for people of color, and everyone in Philadelphia’s criminal justice system. What we had a year ago wasn’t fair, but after a year of use and a supportive third party review, I’m happy that we’ve made real progress for our city,” said District Attorney Larry Krasner.

The independent “third party review” Krasner referred to is a study called Evaluating the Impacts of Eliminating Prosecutorial Requests for Cash Bail conducted by Aurelie Ouss, Assistant Professor of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania and Megan Stevenson, Assistant Professor of Law at George Mason University. The study found no “…detectable evidence that the decreased use of monetary bail, unsecured bond, and release on conditions had adverse effects on appearance rates or [rates of] recidivism.” The study’s other findings include:

–The reduction of cash bail did not negatively impact the number of defendants Released On Recognizance (ROR) who showed up for their court dates

–Rates of recidivism were not higher than they were during the previous DA’s policy

–From February to December of 2018, roughly 1,700 fewer defendants were sent to jail before having their first hearing

–The number of eligible defendants who were Released on Recognizance, without any monetary bail, or with other supervisory conditions saw an immediate 23 percent increase

–There was a 41 percent reduction in bail in amounts of $5,000 or less for nonviolent and nonsexual offenses

–There was a five percent decline in the number of defendants who spent at least one night in jail.

According to Ouss and Stevenson, the study is one of the first to examine the effects of the cash bail system on recidivism rates and court appearance no-shows. They found that reducing the use of the cash bail system for nonviolent offenders had no discernible effect on pretrial misconduct and/or court date appearance rates. “It’s about treatment, not incarceration” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, summing up the intention of the city’s new cash bail policy.

A personal account of the unintended consequences of the old cash bail policy was given by Philadelphia resident Angela Barnes, whose husband was directly affected by the previous administration’s cash bail system. After being arrested for possessing “just two bags” of marijuana, Barnes’ husband was charged with intent to distribute, and did not have the financial means to pay his bail. He subsequently spent ten days in prison and, due to his extended absence, was fired from his job. Due to his desperate circumstances, Barnes said her husband felt compelled to take a plea deal. He suffered three years of probation, court costs, and lost his driving privileges—all because he couldn’t pay the bail for a minor marijuana-related charge. An entirely non-violent crime. Numbers and statistics speak for themselves, but the human suffering behind an cruel and unjust system that favors the rich further proves that there had been a need for change. Barnes praised Krasner and company for giving people like her husband a chance to move beyond minor past mistakes and better themselves.

Additional personal testimony about the importance of cash bail reform was delivered by Joshua Glenn, co-founder of Philadelphia’s Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project, whose purpose is to provide minors in the Philadelphia prison system with a creative outlet, as well as a means of contributing to society upon being released. Glenn himself was locked up and charged as an adult when he was just 16 years old in 2005. He praised the work that the DA and company have done, but stressed the need to take it further. He stressed the importance of raising awareness about the de facto criminalization of poverty, and the vicious school-to-prison pipeline as it relates to the problem of mass incarceration.

Towards the end of the conference, Krasner stressed the fact that only “Cash Bail Reform 1.0” was being presented. “This is not set in stone,” he said. Both DA Krasner and Mayor Kenney expressed that more measures need to be taken to tackle the rates of racial and ethnic disparities within the criminal justice system. “We need to do better,” Kenney said. Still, great leaps are demonstrably being made by the District Attorney’s office to hold criminals accountable based solely on the circumstances of their crimes, rather than on the color of their skin or on the weight of their wallets.

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