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District Attorney Krasner Calls on Philadelphia Courts to Take Action During Coronavirus Emergency

Philadelphia DAO
Mar 23 · 4 min read
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CONTACT:
Jane Roh, District Attorney’s Office, 215–686–8711, Jane.Roh@phila.gov

PHILADELPHIA (March 23, 2020)District Attorney Larry Krasner on Monday called on the judiciary of the Commonwealth to act with greater urgency to safely reduce jail and prison populations to manageable levels in order to reduce crowding, promote social distancing, and prevent further outbreaks of the novel coronavirus in government facilities and in Pennsylvania communities.

Less than a week after the District Attorney’s Office (DAO) and the Philadelphia Police Department announced arrest, charging, and detention policy changes to prevent overcrowding in jails and prisons, admissions have decreased noticeably while discharges have not increased noticeably — despite collaborative efforts by the Defender Association and the DAO to identify incarcerated people who may be released safely during the COVID-19 health emergency.

People in jail unnecessarily include:

  • People being held on bail pre-trial for non-violent or non-serious offenses
  • People who have served their minimum sentences and are eligible for parole
  • People who are serving their sentence and are worthy of early parole
  • People who are at least 60 years old, putting them at higher risk for COVID-19
  • People who are already ill or infirm, putting them at higher risk for COVID-19
  • People who are being held on non-violent or non-serious offenses who would not have been arrested or detained under current Police/DAO policies
  • People who are being held for technical parole violations, rather than new crimes
  • People who are deemed safe for alternative detention, such as house arrest or GPS monitoring
  • Juvenile offenders who have appropriate options for alternatives to detention or housing (eg, juveniles who have no family or housing support will receive specialized consideration)

“Jails and prisons are landlocked cruise ships, with people in extremely close quarters and supplies such as soap and sanitation products drying up. Safely and swiftly depopulating corrections facilities is a matter of life or death for all of us, including corrections officers, health care professionals, and all corrections workers and their families; law enforcement and attorneys; incarcerated people, including those who have not been convicted of crimes; and communities at large,” District Attorney Krasner said. “Safe and swift depopulation of these facilities will enable those who become ill to be treated and appropriately isolated; mitigate panic-fueled staff attrition and prisoner violence; and enable the criminal justice system to be full partners in flattening the curve, so that infections are minimized and Pennsylvanians may once again resume normal activities — something so many desperately need.”

States across the country, including Texas and California are taking necessary actions to safely reduce jail and prison populations in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. The New Jersey Supreme Court, citing “profound risk posed to people in correctional facilities arising from the spread of COVID-19,” issued an emergency order on Sunday that, per the ACLU of New Jersey, could result in the release of 1,000 people.

As of Monday afternoon, the DA, Defender, and the private defense bar were still requesting additional instruction from the First Judicial District for emergency motions to lower bail, lift detainers, and for parole. Video hearings are still not being utilized as they are in other jurisdictions.

In its March 18th order declaring a judicial emergency closing all Pennsylvania courts, the state Supreme Court specifically instructed judicial districts as follows: “Use of advanced communication technology to conduct court proceedings is, again, SPECIFICALLY AUTHORIZED AND ENCOURAGED IN ALL DISTRICTS [court’s emphasis], subject only to constitutional limitations.”

“According to the NYU Public Safety Lab, there has been a 9% reduction in the prison population nationwide in response to this health emergency. Outrageously, Pennsylvania — one of the most highly incarcerated and over-supervised states in the nation — is not helping to drive those reductions,” District Attorney Krasner said. “Every institution that has power to help mitigate the COVID-19 public health emergency has a responsibility to do so — from township councils to Congress to municipal courts. Philadelphia’s effort to stave off a local pandemic has the support of my office, the Defender Association, the Police, and even the FOP. I urge the First Judicial District and all judicial districts to help us protect millions of Pennsylvanians by keeping front-line medical and first responders safe and strong in order to manage this crisis.”

The DAO will continue to share updates related to COVID-19 on social media feeds (@philadao on Twitter), and will encourage members of the public to check the city’s information website for important updates: phila.gov/COVID-19.

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The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is the largest prosecutor’s office in Pennsylvania, and one of the largest in the nation. It serves the more than 1.5 million citizens of the City and County of Philadelphia, employing 600 lawyers, detectives, and support staff. The District Attorney’s Office is responsible for prosecution of approximately 40,000 criminal cases annually.

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