Jail Expansion Stopped, But Bail Reform Urgently Needed

No215jailLast spring, the #No215Jail campaign — which was started by Decarcerate PA and others to stop the expansion of the Philadelphia’s county jails — was successful at blocking a City Council bill that would have allocated $7.2 million for land acquisition to build a new 3000 bed jail in Philadelphia. We believe that instead of building and filling yet another Philly jail, the city needs to tear down the dilapidated House of Correction and change the costly, immoral, ineffective policies that keep Philly’s jails full.

Since we defeated the land acquisition last spring, the #No215Jail campaign has been working hard to change the policies that funnel people into the jail system and hold them there for long periods of time, with a focus on ending cash bail. Our organizing is primarily based out of a rec center at 8th and Diamond, in the heart of an area where residents are heavily targeted by mass incarceration. Meetings are held at the rec center on the first Monday of every month, and we have also held two big public events, a BBQ Speak-out against the jail expansion and a Valentine's Day “Love Not Jails” community dinner and clothing drive.   

The campaign continues to engage with City Council, and is fighting to end cash bail in the city. Over 70% of people in the Philadelphia Prison System (PPS) are being held pretrial because they are unable to pay bail. The bail system doesn’t enhance public safety, instead it penalizes and criminalizes people simply for being poor. Although the city has received a $3.5 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation to implement a number of reforms aimed at reducing the jail population, we believe these reforms are far too short-sighted and limited in scope and, by the city’s own account, would not decrease the population enough to close the House of Correction (HOC). We want Philadelphia to follow the leadership of other cities, such as Washington DC, which have taken steps to more significantly reduce the use of cash bail and drastically cut pre-trial detention. If these actions were taken, the jail population could be reduced dramatically and HOC could be closed.

After the land acquisition bill was defeated, Councilman Bobby Henon — who had originally introduced the bill, but then realized the political tide was turning — invited us to participate in and co-chair a working group on criminal justice reform. We were skeptical of the political motivations behind the convening, but agreed to participate in the hope of putting forward concrete policy suggestions directly to those with decision-making power. Unfortunately, the Working Group was abruptly disbanded as the new administration took over the mayor’s office.

In January, it was announced that Councilman Curtis Jones  would be  convening a Criminal Justice Reform Commission, which is composed of a panel of “experts” but has only one formerly incarcerated member. The commission is holding hearings on criminal justice reform throughout the spring and summer. The #No215Jail campaign recently met with Councilman Jones to assess his position and see if we could have any influence or input in the hearings process. He was open to including more voices on the commission and to holding hearings specifically on bail and pre-trial detention, and is interested in traveling with us to Washington DC to learn about how pre-trial detention works there. We continue to be in conversation with his office about how to make this a reality.

There is also some movement on the bail issue on the state level. Senator Daylin Leach is drafting a bill that would potentially end the use of cash  bail, but we have yet to see the final language. In March, members of the campaign traveled to Harrisburg to testify at a hearing Leach was holding on the importance of eliminating bail. Joshua Glenn, a member of the Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project (YASP) and Decarcerate PA, testified about his experience when he was 16 years old and was held pre-trial for 18 months on charges that were all eventually dismissed.

Over the coming months, we will be launching a social media campaign to lift up stories of people held pre-trial in Philadelphia, meeting regularly to grow our base and build our power, and continuing to engage with City Council and push them to end cash bail in Philadelphia. If you or someone you know has a story to share about the impacts and injustice of the cash bail system that you would like to share for potential used in this social media campaign, please write us!

Decarcerate PA  
ATTN: #No215Bail
PO Box 40764
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Please clearly indicate how we should refer to you/what name we should use for the social media campaign.