PHILADELPHIA – Two years after a MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge grant spurred significant reform in Philadelphia’s criminal justice system, City officials have submitted a proposal for renewal funding to ensure continued progress.

If the application is successful, the City could be awarded up to $4,400,000 in additional funding by the MacArthur Foundation to further reduce the City’s jail population, address racial, ethnic, and economic disparities in the criminal justice system, and preserve public safety.

In 2016, the City submitted its first application to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation with the goal of safely reducing its jail population by 34 percent over three years. The application contained a plan developed through a collaborative and data-driven process involving all of Philadelphia’s criminal justice and behavioral health partners, with feedback from the community. The Foundation awarded the City $3.5 million to implement its first plan.

Two years later, Philadelphia has not only met its original goal, but exceeded it an entire year ahead of schedule. To date, Philadelphia has reduced its jail population by 37%, and depopulated one of its six jail facilities, the House of Correction, with the intent to fully close it by 2020. During this time, Philadelphia has implemented 16 new initiatives including:

  • An Early Bail Review Program which provides a hearing within 5 days and an opportunity for pretrial release for individuals in jail on $50,000 or less bail and no other holds charged with non-violent offenses.
  • A Detainer Alternative Program providing additional treatment opportunities for those at risk of technical violation due to continued substance use.
  • Expanding the use of Civil Code Violations so that individuals never enter the criminal justice system for low level nuisance behavior.

In this new proposal, Philadelphia aims to safely reduce its jail population by 50 percent over five years; from a baseline population of 8,082 on July 30, 2015. The new plan reflects lessons learned over the past two years of implementation, and includes 7 overarching strategies for reform:

  • Reducing the incarceration of individuals pretrial
  • Creating efficiencies in case processing
  • Addressing violations of probation
  • Reducing racial and ethnic disparities
  • Reducing the incarceration of individuals with mental illness
  • Improving cross-system data capacity
  • Fostering meaningful community engagement to support reform

The City has also launched a website devoted to the Safety and Justice Challenge Grant and the reform effort. It includes a graph displaying progress to date in reducing the City’s jail population, and a jail data snapshot report that will be updated monthly.  It also offers citizens the opportunity to provide feedback on the overarching strategies listed above.

Mayor Kenney: “The progress we’ve seen – particularly a 36% drop in our jail population – was truly jump-started by the MacArthur Foundation grant two years ago.  For that we thank not only the Foundation but our criminal justice and behavioral health partners. We need to ensure the permanence of this success, and more importantly, we need to go further.  My thanks go to the MacArthur Foundation for the opportunity to apply for this additional funding.”

Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper, President Judge – Court of Common Pleas. Chair, Criminal Justice Advisory Board: “In just 2 years, the work of Philadelphia’s justice partners via the MacArthur Challenge grant has led to a 36% reduction in our local jail population and a system that is fairer and safer — to the benefit of everyone in our City. We’re proud of the work we’ve done and our newest application is indicative of a continued commitment to public safety through proactive criminal justice reform.”

Larry Krasner, Philadelphia District Attorney:  “Today, we are ahead of our transformational goal, closing a jail, and creating a system that is safer and fairer for all Philadelphians.  But there is so much more work to do; especially when it comes to meeting the goal of reducing the City of Philadelphia’s prison population by 50 percent over five years. These are exciting times, and this application represents the rededication of our efforts to keep improving our City through the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge.”

Keir Bradford-Grey, Chief Defender at the Defender Association of Philadelphia:  “I am excited about the opportunity to continue our work to bring meaningful reform to our city.  We have already proven how much we can achieve by working together over the past 3 years. Our progress will be even better now that we have learned from our challenges.”

Councilman Curtis Jones, Chair of City Council’s Committee on Public Safety and designee to CJAB:  “This year’s successful depopulation of the House of Correction is a tangible testament to the success of the reforms spurred by the MacArthur Foundation Challenge grant. We look forward to continued progress that to the Foundation’s support and the incredible cooperation of our criminal justice partners.”

The City’s application for renewed funding comes on the heels of a new report from the Vera Institute of Justice, which found that large urban areas such as Philadelphia are decarcerating at historic rates, but that progress masks stagnation on the issue in rural areas.  Some states, according to the report, are incarcerating at increasing rates.

Philadelphia’s MacArthur Foundation Challenge Grant Implementation Team is made up of representatives from the City of Philadelphia Managing Director’s Office, Philadelphia Police Department, the Defender Association of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, the Philadelphia Department of Prisons, the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbilities Services, and the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania- Municipal Court, Court of Common Pleas, Pretrial Services, and Adult Probation and Parole Department.