Philadelphia’s Mayor and Police Commissioner favor diversion over imprisonment. They will aim to reduce the jail population and reform the criminal justice system.
At the tail end of a Wednesday afternoon press conference announcing that the City of Philadelphia has won a $3.5 million MacArthur grant to implement an ambitious plan to reduce the prison populations by 34% over three years and mitigate the racial disparities in the criminal justice system, the Mayor and the Police Commissioner spoke of a Philadelphia that has yet to fully materialize.
“There’s no throw away people in the City of Philadelphia,” said Mayor Jim Kenney, a former City Councilman.
When asked about broken windows policing – a theory that suggest that cracking down on minor offenses will deter individuals from committing larger crimes – Mr. Richard Ross, the former Deputy Commissioner who assumed control of the police department upon Mr. Charles Ramsey’s retirement, said “its not a policing strategy we deploy in Philadelphia; we deal with a holistic approach.”
Indeed, there are throw away people in this city: home to just .5% of all Americans, Philadelphia, which has more juvenile offenders locked up for life than any other, is responsible for the incarceration of nearly one in 10 juvenile lifers nationwide, according to a recent article on Salon.com authored by former Philadelphia CityPaper reporter Mr. Daniel Denvir. And regarding policing, broken-windows, not holistic handling, was the mandate officers followed just months ago when Mr. Michael A. Nutter was the Mayor.
Amidst the shiny skyscrapers, iconic tourist attractions, acclaimed dining and swanky neighborhoods is a birthplace of liberty that’s far from liberation: the average length of stay in a Philadelphia jail for a pre-trial defendant is 95 days, four times the national average, according to Judge Sheila Wood-Skipper; of the hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians stopped by police in 2015, the gross majority of them were African-American; and before Mr. Kenney in 2014 pushed to decriminalize marijuana, blacks were four times more likely than whites to be arrested in the City for possession, though the usage rate between racial groups were equal.
But a new paradigm in criminal justice appears emergent in Philadelphia and – unlike the plans to decriminalize the possession of marijuana under the Nutter Administration – it has the full support of the Police Commissioner.
Mr. Ross this afternoon voiced his agreement with diversion:
“The right people need to be in jail.”
As did the Mayor:
“Folks can’t get what they need – in the way of drug treatment, counseling and job training – behind bars; they need to get it in a place where people are supportive, helpful and enthusiastic about their recovery and redemption”
Mr. Kenney and Mr. Ross, both of whom will take part in a April 29th town hall on the issue of stop-and-frisk, are a part of a first-of-its-kind local government collaborative that’s aiming to introduce a myriad of reforms to the criminal justice system, including changes the arraignment process and the reliance on cash bail.
City Council President Darrell Clarke said today’s achievement is proof that governments can get work done.
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