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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: July 1, 2019 05:52 PM
From: Senator Sharif Street
To: All Senate members
Subject: Ending Cash Bail in Pennsylvania
In the near future, I will introduce legislation to end cash bail in Pennsylvania.

Among the fundamental rights that protect all Americans is the right to reasonable bail and due process of law guaranteed to the accused. Federal guidelines for the imposition or denial of bail include the defendant’s history, evidence, and whether they are a flight risk, danger to the public, or both.

However, the bail process in Pennsylvania too often centers on an individual’s ability to pay rather than the individual’s risk to public safety. Because it includes no review of one’s ability to pay monetary bail, it frequently assigns cash bail to those who do not have the means to pay for release. This leads to lengthy periods of imprisonment, sometimes years, putting employment, housing, child custody and other means of a stable and productive life at risk.

Even six months of imprisonment can cost taxpayers $20,000. Often, an accused individual may be forced to accept a plea deal to leave the jail environment and preserve their home life and freedom. This reality was underscored by the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals who classified Pennsylvania’s system of bail as “a flaw in our system of justice” and “a threat to equal justice under the law” in response to the case of Joseph Curry (Curry v. Yachera) who spent 88 days in a Lehigh County jail, costing taxpayers almost $10,000. Because he was unable to post bail, which was set at $20,000 for allegedly shoplifting $130 in merchandise, he pled no contest without admission of guilt. His time detained resulted in him missing the birth of his first child and losing his job. He almost lost his home and vehicle.

According to the Vera Institute’s 2019 national study, “The Lasting and Harmful Effects of Pretrial Detention,” over 64% of those imprisoned nationally since 2015 are pre-trial detainees, most of which are unable to post bail. More than two thirds of the over 740,000 incarcerated in local jails have not been convicted of a crime. Pennsylvania holds the ninth highest rate of pretrial incarceration in the United States, imprisoning 270 people for every 100,000 residents.

California, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey have ended the use of cash bail and Philadelphia has limited its use in recent years. The Philadelphia experiment has yielded interesting results. In 2018, 1,750 defendants were released without bail and the recidivism rates went unchanged. In that same year, court appearance rates remained at ninety-seven-percent in the Court of Common Pleas and eighty-seven-percent in the Municipal Court, the exact rate they have been in Philadelphia for over a decade.

The way in which the pretrial process is administered in Pennsylvania is out of compliance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure created to encourage pretrial release without cash bail, limit pretrial detention and protect the presumption of innocence. Cash bail is an antiquated sect of our justice system that creates a de facto debtors’ prison by disproportionately jailing the indigent. The costs averted by ending the mass incarceration of pretrial detainees will more than compensate for bail maintenance fees collected by counties throughout the Commonwealth.

I urge you to join me as a co-sponsor of this important piece of legislation. If you have any questions, please contact my Policy Director, Micah Mahjoubian, at micah@pasenate.com.