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Philadelphia's participation in the Safety and Justice Challenge

Philadelphia’s reform plan

Philadelphia’s criminal justice partners are implementing seven strategies to advance racial equity in the criminal justice system by safely reducing the local jail population.

Racial equity framework

The seven strategies of the reform plan are guided by a racial equity framework that:

  • Utilizes race and ethnicity data to drive collaborative criminal justice reform.
  • Fosters agency and community leadership commitment to advancing racial equity in the criminal justice system.
  • Promotes agency-specific policy and practice changes centering racial equity in decision-making.
  • Sustains and grows the criminal justice reform effort.

1. Reduce the incarceration of pretrial defendants

Pretrial advocates. The Defender Association will interview people across the City right after they are arrested. They will also present that information to the court at the bail hearing to advocate for release. This will allow for a more thoughtful, individualized bail decision. It will also reduce racial disparity in pretrial detention. Expansion of the pretrial advocates program will improve access to counsel and allow the Defender Association to make individualized arguments for release and recommendations for appropriate release plans.

Detention review hearings. The District Attorney’s Office, First Judicial District, and Defender Association will provide a more substantive hearing to everyone who remains in jail after the initial bail setting. These hearings will be within three days of arrest. Expanding due process to allow for full hearings for everyone incarcerated pretrial will reduce disparities in the system.

Pretrial professional development. The Pretrial Services Department will provide professional development opportunities to staff of all levels. This will increase their ability to engage clients in a meaningful and social services-minded manner. This initiative will institutionalize changes to the criminal justice system by building a racial equity knowledge base across the entire Pretrial Services Department.

Sustained initiatives for pretrial strategy

  • Alternatives to cash bail
  • Research advisory council
  • Early bail review
  • Pretrial electronic monitoring.

2. Increase efficiencies in case processing

There are no new funded initiatives being proposed by the case processing workgroup. The workgroup’s efforts in the coming years will continue to be focused on sustaining the long stayer reviews (and associated policy changes) for both Municipal Court and Common Pleas Court.

Sustained initiatives for case processing strategy

  • Municipal Court long stayer review
  • Common Pleas Court long stayer review
  • Early parole petitions.

3. Address violations of probation

There are no new funded initiatives for this strategy. The workgroup’s efforts in the coming years will continue to be focused on sustaining the early termination and absconder reviews, as well as investigating racial and ethnic disparities within the detainer population (in collaboration with the data team and the data diagnostic initiative).

Sustained initiatives for violations of probation strategy

  • Early termination and absconder review
  • Detainer review hearings
  • Probation sentences project
  • Case consolidation (ARC).

4. Reduce racial and ethnic disparities

CJAB leadership commitment to racial equity. The Criminal Justice Advisory Board (CJAB) will assess how its current strategic plan advances racial equity, and ensure that the development of its new plan centers racial equity in the process. They will also engage external experts to support leaders in advancing racial equity within their organization.

Sustained initiatives for racial and ethnic disparities strategy

  • Race and ethnicity data diagnostic
  • Initiative review
  • Bias training
  • Police-assisted diversion
  • Civil code violations.

5. Reduce the number of people in jail with mental illness

Alternative Response Team. The Alternative Responder Team (ART) will be made up of a behavioral health clinician, an EMT, and a Certified Peer Specialist. These teams will be dispatched from 911 to assist with deescalating and stabilizing non-violent crisis situations. These teams will also link people in crisis to appropriate behavioral health and social service supports. By creating a non-justice option for these kinds of community needs, the program aims to reduce the types of crises that law enforcement are responsible for and provide communities with more direct and appropriate access to support services.

Sustained initiatives for mental health strategy

  • Alternatives to detention (pretrial and probation)
  • Police co-responder
  • Post-arrest screening and supports
  • COVID-19 reentry housing project
  • The Choice Is Yours.

6. Increase cross-system data capacity

Scientific evaluation. A rigorous scientific evaluation of the reform effort is needed. This evaluation will look at the impact of the strategies on the jail population and any potential relationship to the rise in shootings and homicides. This work uses a racial equity lens to provide further guidance on how to address inequities in the system generally. A community survey will be conducted to assess perceptions of racial inequity in the system, and how to address it. Analyses will also be done to explore the role of discretion and other factors.

Sustained initiatives for data capacity strategy

  • Data capacity

7. Foster meaningful community engagement

Philadelphia will engage community members in the reform process through community meetings, focus groups, and roundtable discussions on criminal justice reform. The partners have fostered ongoing relationships with community advocates including those directly impacted by crime and violence.

Community assessment initiative. The Community Advisory Committee (CAC) will conduct focus groups, with the help of a consultant, to analyze community experiences with the justice system. These focus groups will provide needed context for the racial and ethnic disparity data generated from each agency by describing underlying factors that drive disparities. The study will also help hone efforts on policies and practices that would be most effective in driving positive outcomes.

Microgrants. The City established a Criminal Justice Microgrant Fund in 2020. Another round of microgrant funds will be made available this coming year. This will include funding for two types of grants. Funds will be available for the existing project-based grantmaking. Funds will also be used to provide general operating support for BIPOC-led organizations. The application process for this new tier will be streamlined to allow for a more direct pipeline of funding to organizations most in need.

Services for people in pretrial status. The City will fund a range of services for people who are in the community pretrial. Services will be voluntary, but clients can be referred from the Pretrial Services Department, Defender Association, community members, and others.

Sustained initiatives for the community engagement workgroup and the CAC

  • Community Advisory Committee
  • Art for Justice
  • Outreach and communications.

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