Philadelphia's participation in the Safety and Justice Challenge

Philadelphia’s reform plan

Philadelphia’s criminal justice partners are implementing seven strategies to reduce the local jail population. The program also seeks to lower racial, ethnic, and economic disparities in the criminal justice system.

1. Reduce the incarceration of pretrial defendants

Risk assessment. A pretrial risk tool is being developed with historical Philadelphia data to separately forecast the risk of failure to appear and new arrests. Criminal justice and community stakeholder meetings are underway to ensure the process is thoughtful and deliberate. An independent evaluation will be conducted and a research advisory council will be established as part of the risk tool’s development.

Alternatives to cash bail. Capacity within pretrial services will be enhanced to ensure that more individuals can be safely released into the community while awaiting trial. The First Judicial District updated their electronic monitoring equipment to a system that includes wireless units. This eliminates the need for people to have a landline to participate. Pretrial Services will create a range of supervision levels with the ability to increase and decrease the level of supervision as appropriate, including:

  • Automated phone, text, and email court reminders.
  • Phone check-ins.
  • Office visits.
  • Post court hearing check-ins.
  • Needs assessment and referral (if applicable).
  • Electronic monitoring.

Pretrial advocates. Public defenders interview people before their bail hearing. They collect information about any unique circumstances. The public defender then presents this information to the court at the bail hearing.

Early bail review. Philadelphia Municipal Court provides early bail review hearings within five days of when bail is set. This program is for individuals in jail on low bail amounts with nothing else holding them. These reviews offer a chance for early release for people who could not have otherwise made bail. The program will be expanded to include additional charge and bail criteria and enhanced pretrial release options. Once the risk tool is implemented, these hearings will serve as detention review proceedings.


2. Increase efficiencies in case processing

Continuance review. The Court, district attorney, and public defender launched a review of continuance reasons to identify and address delays in case processing.

Long stayer reviews. The Court and justice partners will also conduct case reviews for people who have long lengths of stay in custody to address delays in processing times. They will also create a more automatic method to notify all parties as to the amount of time an individual has spent in custody.


3. Address violations of probation

Detainer alternatives. The Probation Department started a detainer alternative program (DAP) that provides treatment for people on probation who struggle with substance use. This is an alternative to incarceration.

Violation electronic monitoring. The Probation Department also started a violation electronic monitoring program. This program will safely supervise individuals in the community who would otherwise be incarcerated due to a violation.

Probation caseload project. To decrease the number of people in Philadelphia on probation overall, the Probation Department will research individuals in absconder status and identify people who have been successful on probation for early termination.

Detainer reviews. Notifications will be provided to the public defender of the individuals who are in jail for 6 months or more due to a probation detainer. The public defender, district attorney, and judges will work together to find an alternative to incarceration.

Probation sentence project. The public defender and the district attorney will work together to develop recommendations for shorter probation sentences. The District Attorney’s Office will also limit the length of probation sentences they offer or request.


4. Reduce racial and ethnic disparities

Implicit bias training. Philadelphia’s criminal justice partners have developed an implicit bias training program. Each partner will provide custom training for their entire agency that will identify areas of policy and practice changes that can help reduce disparities within that agency.

Race and ethnicity diagnostic review. Race and ethnicity data will be reviewed across the criminal justice system to identify opportunities for reforms.

Initiative review series. Philadelphia will assess the extent to which reforms are being implemented with the specific aim of reducing racial and ethnic disparities, tracking outcomes by race and ethnicity, and making appropriate program adjustments to ensure that disparities are being addressed.


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

Linkages for Individuals in Need of Community Supports (LINCS). The LINCS program connects people with a mental illness who have been jailed for violating probation to treatment in the community.

Post-Arrest Screening and Supports (PASS). PASS is a pilot diversion program to link people with mental illness with services after arrest. Additional information will also be provided to the public defender to better advocate for pretrial release and improve case processing.

Police co-responder program. This pilot program will pair police with behavioral health professionals when law enforcement is called to respond to people with mental illness or intellectual disability. The goal is to connect people with supports, rather than incarceration.

Stepping Up. Philadelphia is participating in the nation-wide Stepping Up initiative to address the over-incarceration of individuals who have been identified as having a serious mental illness. The partners will develop an action plan to reduce the number of incarcerations, shorten lengths of stay, increase linkages to treatment, and lower recidivism for this population.


6. Increase cross-system data capacity

The First Judicial District tracks results of the MacArthur reforms. When possible, monthly reports are generated and shared with partners to track the jail population and outcomes.


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.

Art for Justice. The Mural Arts Program received a grant from the Ford Foundation’s Art for Justice Fund to:

  • Launch a public art project related to the Safety and Justice Challenge.
  • Expand the Guild program for people diverted from the county jails.
  • Develop a fellowship program for up to five formerly incarcerated artists.
  • Evaluate the Guild program model.

Community Advisory Committee. The criminal justice partners will establish a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) that will inform the implementation of new jail reduction initiatives, ensure that they are responsive to the needs of diverse community stakeholders, and strengthen support for the City’s criminal justice reform efforts. The CAC will be comprised of individuals that represent a broad range of perspectives on criminal justice reform.

Outreach and communications. Information about the Safety and Justice Challenge will be shared across the City through enhanced outreach efforts and a broader messaging strategy. A storytelling series will be developed to share the experiences of individuals involved in the criminal justice system and the reform efforts. Outreach efforts will be enhanced to improve police/community relations.

Criminal Justice Innovation Fund. The City, in collaboration with the criminal justice partners, will establish a Criminal Justice Innovation Fund to provide microgrants to community-based organizations that are doing innovative work to further criminal justice reform.


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