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Supreme Court Positive In Its First Report On Philadelphia Criminal Justice Reform

August 8, 2011

As our friends at the Criminal Justice Section blog reported last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has issued an interim status report on the widely publicized criminal justice reforms implemented in Philadelphia over the last 18 months. The tone and content of the report is broadly encouraging.

 As we recently noted here, one salutary result of the reforms has been a 20% drop in Philadelphia’s prison population. Other advances, according to the Supreme Court’s report, include a nearly 50% drop in the number of cases dismissed at the preliminary-hearing stage and a more than 100% increase in the proportion of felony cases proceeding their first preliminary-hearing listings. These numbers presumably represent, in large part, the fruit of the much-heralded charging reform implemented by District Attorney Seth Williams immediately upon his inauguration in January of last year. (Disclosure: I work in the DA’s Office.) Bail collections, a function moved from the clerk’s office, likewise rose a staggering forty-fold.

But the report cautions that there is still more room for improvement, from reducing defendants’ failure-to-appear rate to optimizing use of technology. (Some progress on the technology front is already forthcoming, with increased video conferencing and the April 2012 implementation of e-filing).

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