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Photo: U.S Bureau of Prisons
Photo: U.S Bureau of Prisons

Philadelphia gets $2.2 million to reduce its jail population 15% by 2022

It is the fourth MacArthur Foundation grant received by the city since 2015.

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In a victory for the pursuit of racial equity, city officials announced on Tuesday, Feb. 9, that Philadelphia has been awarded a grant of $2.275 million dollars that they hope will reduce the city’s jail population by 15% by 2022.

The grant, given by the MacArthur Foundation, is the fourth of its kind awarded to the city since 2015. Over these last five years, the foundation has invested $9.9 million into the city’s undertaking of criminal justice reform. 

The grant is part of their Safety and Justice Challenge Network, a $245 million national initiative to transform the way that America operates its jail systems. 

Since the foundation began working with the city, it has closed its House of Corrections and avoided the construction of a new prison. 

Philadelphia’s current jail population is around 4,600 people, and since 2015, it has fallen by 43%. But this reduction, though significant, has not been able to improve the dire racial disparities that still exist within the city’s jails. 

The grant application submitted last year noted that people of color make up 65% of the city’s population, yet this group comprised 92% of people in custody. 

In a statement following the grant announcement, Mayor Jim Kenney said, “building on Philadelphia’s progress is especially critical as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustices against Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color reinforce the need to transform how systems operate.” 

Kenney called attention to the harmful ways in which unnecessary incarceration impacts the “health, safety and recovery of our communities.” 

It’s widely believed by advocates that communities naturally become safer as a result of reducing the role of law enforcement and jails, and directing those resources towards Black and Brown neighborhoods that desperately need investments in education and jobs. 

With the new grant money, Philadelphia will target several reform measures, like providing early bail review hearings to people held in jail on low bail amounts, and increasing early diversion opportunities through the Police-Assisted Diversion Program. 

It will also boost connections to treatment and services for mentally ill people on community supervision, and increase community-driven reform investments through a criminal justice micro-grant fund. 

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a long-time advocate for prison reform, announced new details about the efforts to reduce pre-trial detentions by expanding the early bail review program. 

Starting on March 1, all defendants whose bail is set at $250,000 or less will receive custody determination hearings before a judge within the first few days of their arrests. The program now allows for defendants who had probation or parole detainees that were previously excluded from early bail review to receive a hearing. 

"The expansion of early bail review to more defendants within days of arrest will help ensure we are not needlessly incarcerating people who are not a danger to the public, as well as reducing harms associated with separating individuals from their families, vocations and communities," Krasner said. 

As part of the MacArthur Foundation initiative, the city has introduced a Community Advisory Committee (CAC), made up of volunteers who work with criminal justice partners to encourage transparency and accountability throughout these reform efforts. 

Devren Washington, chair of the CAC, explained that the community perspective is greatly needed in Philadelphia at this time. 

“We look forward to working with the justice partners to implement policies that will protect the most vulnerable while also redefining the meaning of community safety,” he said. 

Philadelphia has pledged that they will use this MacArthur grant, which includes funds that will be supplied to people of color-led community organizations, to help design a “safer, more effective, and more equitable” criminal justice system. 


 

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