Failure to provide child care services for jurors, victims and witnesses can lead to a host of problems for the justice system, including failures to comply with subpoenas, delays in court proceedings and less diverse jury pools, leaders from Philadelphia’s legal community told members of Philadelphia’s City Council on Monday.
The comments came during a City Council hearing that looked into whether the governing body should consider a resolution aimed at providing child care services for those who use Philadelphia courts. The hearing, which was convened through a resolution by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, ended with the at-large councilwoman promising to develop a bill outlining a more detailed proposal to provide the services.
“This is step one,” Brown said at the conclusion of the more than hour-long hearing Monday.
Speaking at the hearing were Mike Lee, director of legislation at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office; Rhonda Hill Wilson, co-chair of the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness; Lynn Marks, chairwoman of the First Judicial District’s Juror Participation Initiative Committee; and Tianna Kalogerakis, president of the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia.
Each voiced support for providing the child care services.
According to Lee, victims and witnesses in criminal cases might see the biggest direct benefit when it comes to providing child care services. He said oftentimes victims and witnesses are forced to choose between either bringing their children to court with them or simply ignoring a subpoena, which can lead to long delays in cases.
“This conflict adds to the stress, emotional trauma and pressure already created by the justice system,” he said, adding that failure to provide the care can also erode trust in the justice system.
Kalogerakis also said her organization is “acutely aware of the disproportionately negative effect the criminal justice system has on black and brown people,” and that having jury pools that under-represent those communities can have severe impacts on a party’s rights.
“We must do all that we can to eliminate barriers for black and brown individuals to be able to serve on a jury for their peers,” she said.
Although the hearing was the first official work from City Council to look into the issue, according to Brown, her office, along with Wilson, have been looking into the issue for more than the past year, with representatives of the Montgomery County court system, which has been providing child care services to court users for 25 years.
Wilson, a trial attorney, said the issue affects both the criminal and civil systems, and she rarely sees young men and women serving on juries. She noted that, along with Montgomery County, courts in Allegheny County, Cambria and Monroe already have child care programs, which she said could serve as a model for any system Philadelphia may adopt.
“I’m here with a solution and a remedy,” Wilson said, suggesting that the program could be funded with a $5 charge on all cases that come through the courts.
In May the FJD’s Juror Participation Initiative Committee reported that between 36 or 42 percent of Philadelphia residents, or about 200,000 people, fail to respond to mailed jury summonses each year. The committee placed child care as one of the top five hardships jurors face, and recommended a court-sponsored program that could be funded through fees or a donation or voucher program.
Marks, speaking Monday, said that committee found that women and young people are disproportionately affected by this issue. But having a diverse jury pool is fundamental to the justice system.
“We cannot over-emphasize the importance of having a robust cross-section of the members of Philadelphia,” Marks said.
Brown did not say Monday when she would likely have a bill, but before heading to the full council, it will likely be reviewed first by the Committee on Law and Government.
Read the commission’s report: