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Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz on Wednesday announced that the city could save $75 million every year by eliminating cash bail for low-level offenders, freeing up funds that would be spent on incarcerating the poor.
In a report released by the Controller’s Office, Butkovitz said cutting cash bail would reduce the prison population from more than 6,500 to less than 4,700. By doing that, the city could close the House of Corrections and the Detention Center, saving the $75 million annually minus the potential cash bail payments.
“It costs the city tens of millions of dollars every year to house individuals waiting for trials involving vandalism, fraud and drug abuse,” said Butkovitz in a statement issued Wednesday. “This can cause more damage on the incarcerated and their families and places a financial strain on the justice system.”
According to the report, 33 percent of the city’s offenders on pretrial status are held because they cannot afford cash bail; one in three could be released on less than $5,000.
It costs Philadelphia $115 to $531 per day for a one-bed jail stay, the report noted; on average a prisoner spends at least 25 days in jail before going to trial. The report estimated that with all costs involved, each inmate costs roughly $40,000 to keep locked up before trial.
“The City of Philadelphia should move via the District Attorney’s Office to dismantle the current cash bail system and migrate to programs similar to those employed by New Jersey and Washington, D.C.,” the report said. “For low-risk offenders, employ measures of monitoring ranging from low oversight and reminders to higher supervision including electronic monitoring.”
The controller also recommended police issue more citations than arrests for low-level offenses.
In his statement, Butkovitz indicated the measure had support from at least one City Council member.
“Councilman Curtis Jones has made this a top priority and he along with the Defender’s Association are to be commended for establishing a sound framework,” said Butkovitz. “Other cities have taken the steps to implementing measures that work and Philadelphia needs to follow their lead.”
The idea of eliminating cash bail in Philadelphia has become a high-profile issue in recent times.
One notable proponent is Democratic District Attorney candidate Larry Krasner, who has made overhauling the cash bail system a focus of his campaign, along with other reforms such as seeking lower sentencing schemes and never seeking the death penalty during his tenure.