Philly's DA axed cash bail for low-level offenses. Activists are still watching - Generocity Philly

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Feb. 22, 2018 12:50 pm

Philly’s DA axed cash bail for low-level offenses. Activists are still watching

Philadelphia Coalition for a Just District Attorney's Hannah Sassaman welcomed the new policy, but said it's only the "first step."

Chief Defender Keir Bradford Grey and DA Krasner answering questions about cash bail at a press conference on Wednesday.

(Photo via twitter.com/phillywerise; image has been cropped)

District Attorney Larry Krasner announced yesterday his office would no longer seek cash bail from those accused of low-level offenses.

This includes misdemeanor and nonviolent charges such as DUIs, prostitution, retail theft and non-residential trespassing.

Krasner, who entered office in January, said frequently during his campaign that he would support the elimination of cash bail if elected.

It’s good news to the 1,200 people who sit in jail in Philadelphia pre-trial because they can’t afford to pay their bail. (Remember the national Mama’s Bail Out Day crowdfunding campaign, founded last May to help local moms meet their bails so they could be released in time for Mother’s Day?)

It’s also good news to the Philadelphia Coalition for a Just District Attorney, which has been working for the past year to encourage the next district attorney to adopt progressive policies.

Coalition affiliate organizations include Frontline Dads, ACLU-PA, Philadelphia Student Union and Media Mobilizing Project, among many others.

“Cash bail doesn’t keep us safe, and this is an important first step towards ending its use in Philadelphia,” said Frontline Dads founder Reuben Jones in a statement. “Our coalition now urges the District Attorney to follow through on his commitment to end the use of wealth-based pre-trial detention in all cases — a move that would bring us closer to actualizing the presumption of innocence for all accused people, regardless of their financial means or the alleged charges they face.”

As of last spring, the group’s goals have been to:

  • Improve interactions with Philadelphia’s Black and Brown communities
  • Increase transparency and accountability in the DA’s office
  • Commit to treating youth as youth
  • Consider consequences for immigrants in the criminal justice system
  • End Philly’s cash bail system

Several of those goals have been met, or are in the process of being met. For instance, Caleb Arnold was hired this month as the DA office’s first immigration counsel to advise on “best practices to protect the rights of immigrants interacting with the criminal justice system.”

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Media Mobilizing Project Policy Director Hannah Sassaman said that since last May’s primary election, the coalition has grown to include new types of organizations, including sex worker harm reduction group Project SAFE and GALAEI, which serves Philly’s queer Latinx community, while working alongside the Krasner administration to develop its office’s criminal justice policies, including that of cash bail.

Ben Waxman, director of communications for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, confirmed via email: “We sought input from a variety of partners and stakeholders, including other governmental agencies, elected officials, outside policy experts, and criminal justice reform advocates. We appreciate the input from these groups, including [Coalition for a Just District Attorney].”

Sassaman, who was named a 2017 Soros Justice Fellow in July, said the coalition views this new policy on cash bail as a “first step” toward the total abolishment of cash bail. Its members are aware, for one, that judges may not choose to adhere to the policy, in which case “that will be an important focus of our movements.”

“Both Krasner and his team are learning the true map of criminal justice in Philadelphia and across the country and how to chart that map with the most skill,” she said. “They’re learning that and so are we.”

In the short-term, several organizational members of the coalition are participating in a forum on March 3 on the subject of detainers inspired by rapper Meek Mill’s case. Learn more here or on Facebook here.

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