It turns out eliminating cash bail would save the city $75M annually - Generocity Philly


Oct. 12, 2017 12:27 pm

It turns out eliminating cash bail would save the city $75M annually

According to a new report by City Controller Alan Butkovitz.

In the coming weeks, courts will be handling a number of pandemic-related cases involving prisoners, and legislatures will be considering proposals to let large numbers of inmates leave confinement.

(Photo by Flickr user Jobs For Felons Hub, used under a Creative Commons license)

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from the Office of Criminal Justice's chief of staff, Julie Wertheimer. (10/12, 4:40 p.m.) This story has been updated with mention of Billy Penn's report on the subject. (10/30, 2:48 p.m.)
A new report from outgoing City Controller Alan Butkovitz says eliminating cash bail would actually save the city money — something like $75 million.

The report specifically outlines the effects of eliminating cash bail for low-risk, nonviolent offenders. That means the people who have been arrested, but not convicted, and are awaiting trial.

“When you consider the cost of housing somebody in a prison, it amounts to about $160 a day for people who have not committed violent crimes and cannot raise the cash to make a low amount of bail,” Butkovitz told WHYY. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

It’s good news for advocates of left-leaning criminal justice reform, including Democratic district attorney candidate Larry Krasner, who ran partially on a platform of eliminating cash bail, and 20-organization supergroup Philadelphia Coalition for a Just District Attorney.

It also reminds of grassroots efforts like that of the National Mama’s Bail Out Day, represented by eight Philly orgs crowdfunding for bail money for local moms in jail — and raising a whopping $58,000 in turn.

Some other notable facts and figures from the report, as stated there:

  • Since 2015, Philadelphia jail populations have declined almost 20 percent, from 8,301 in January 2015 to 6,820 in June 2017.
  • Much of this decline can be attributed to the implementation of various MacArthur Initiatives launched by the City since 2015.
  • Pretrial incarceration makes up approximately 64 percent of the Philadelphia jail population.*
  • One in every five offenders held pretrial remain incarcerated because they cannot afford the cash bail required for release.
Read the report

*Julie Wertheimer, chief of staff for the city’s Office of Criminal Justice, wrote us this note after we published:

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“We also agree that there are issues with a system based on money bail, and that’s why we’ve been engaged in an intensive reform effort with our partners across the criminal justice system for over two years, an effort that has already led to a nearly 20 percent reduction of the prison population. However, there are numerous inaccuracies in this report — our pretrial population is about 30%, not 64%, bench warrants total 41,000, rather than 65,000, and our appearance rate is over 95%, rather than 70%, to name a few.”

Furthermore, “I think it’s important to note that we’re (meaning all of the criminal justice system partners) already in the midst of implementing many, if not all, of his recommendations.

“Additionally we do dispute that we could close HOC and DC with a population of 4,700. It would need to be much lower for a number of reasons. And right now we’re focused on the reforms in process and achieving our 34% reduction.”

Check out Billy Penn’s in-depth look at the political fall-out from the report.


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