Philadelphia, PA

Change in Jail Population 38%

Action Areas Bail Community Engagement Diversion Pretrial Services

Last Updated

Background

Philadelphia had the highest incarceration rate of any large jurisdiction in the country. This high rate of incarceration was partly driven by unnecessarily long lengths of stay in jail and disproportionate arrests and incarceration of people of color. Existing alternatives to incarceration that provided treatment did not substantially reduce the number of people with mental health issues and substance use disorders who were incarcerated.

Strategies

Philadelphia advanced a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just and equitable for all.

01

REDUCE RELIANCE ON BAIL

Philadelphia advanced strategies like alternatives to cash bail, early bail review, pretrial advocates, and detention review hearings to reduce the number of people held in jail pretrial on low amounts of bail.

02

INCREASE EARLY DIVERSION

With alternatives to incarceration (e.g., pretrial and probation), post-arrest screening and supports, and the development of a police co-responder model, Philadelphia increased early diversion opportunities for people struggling with mental illness and substance use disorders.

03

CASE PROCESSING

To create efficiencies in case processing at the pretrial stage, Philadelphia implemented Municipal Court long stayer review, Common Pleas Court long stayer review, and early parole petitions. These strategies were designed to reduce the length of time people spend in jail by reviewing individual cases, with long lengths of stay, to address continuances and other delays in processing.

04

DATA CAPACITY

Philadelphia expanded its ability to collect and share data across multiple criminal justice agencies by using standardization and regular reporting to enable collaboration and data-informed decision-making. Quantitative and qualitative data will also drive a scientific evaluation of the impact of the city's reform efforts to date.

05

RACIAL DISPARITIES

Philadelphia hired staff dedicated specifically to addressing racial disparities. This enabled the site to conduct data-informed reviews of existing policies and reform initiatives to determine their impact on disparities, train other staff on racial bias, and provide recommendations to broaden the scope of reform with a focus on equity.

06

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Through a criminal justice microgrant fund, Philadelphia increased investments in community-based services. The city also established a Community Advisory Committee and services for people in the community pretrial.

Results

As a result of the strategies above, Philadelphia has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system, including substantial reductions in its jail population.

Quartery ADP for Philadelphia (2016-2021)

37.8% from baseline

More Results

Through their strategies to reduce the jail population, the city successfully established a program to provide early bail review hearings within five days for people held in jail pretrial; increased early diversion opportunities through the Police-Assisted Diversion Program and other alternatives to detention; and reduced the average length of time people spend in jail awaiting trial or a violation of probation hearing.

Additionally, as part of the city’s efforts to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in the jail population, Philadelphia established a racial and ethnic disparities workgroup to develop approaches to embed racial equity in their decarceration strategies and work towards a more equitable justice system. They also developed data tools and processes for investigating racial disparities at decision points across the criminal justice system; reviewed outcomes of key reform initiatives by race and ethnicity and suggested policy and practice changes to reduce disparities; and conducted collaborative implicit bias training across criminal justice partner agencies.

Additionally, establishing a Community Advisory Committee and developing partnerships with community-based advisors allowed the city to bring in additional perspectives that are critical to the success of making the local justice system fairer and more equitable.

The Safety and Justice Challenge has relationships with community groups who are engaged in conversations and decision-making related to reforming the local justice system. The Philadelphia partnership represents a collaborative effort between key stakeholders including: courts, police, corrections, public defenders, district attorneys, behavioral health, community members, and many others who support the city’s efforts to dismantle barriers to racial equity in the local justice system.

Remaining Challenges

Philadelphia is focused on addressing its remaining challenges in its local justice system.

While Philadelphia has made great strides at reducing the size of the local jail population, racial and ethnic disparities have worsened. Local criminal justice and community partners have shifted the reform efforts to center racial equity, while collaborating closely to protect the health and safety of the city.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every aspect of the city’s local justice system and continues to uniquely affect those incarcerated in local jails. The foundation of collaborative, data-driven strategies, including the necessary structures and collaboration from local stakeholders that are in place to support these strategies, has set the city up well to respond to the pandemic. They are more focused than ever on supporting community-driven solutions and investing in services and supports for those impacted by the jail system.

Lead Agency

The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice and Public Safety

Contact Information

Erica Atwood
Senior Director, Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice and Public Safety, City of Philadelphia
erica.atwood@phila.gov

Rachael Eisenberg
Director, Office of Criminal Justice
rachael.eisenberg@phila.gov

Malik Bandy
Community Engagement and Communications Coordinator – MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge
albert.m.bandy@phila.gov

Partners

First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, Municipal Court, Court of Common Pleas, Adult Probation and Parole Department, Pretrial Services Department, Department of Research and Development, Defender Association of Philadelphia, City of Philadelphia, Managing Director’s Office, Philadelphia Department of Prisons, Philadelphia Police Department, Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual DisAbilities Services, Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, Community Advisory Committee

Blog Posts