Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The following is a press release from the Philadelphia Bail Fund. The first Bail Watch training will take place tomorrow at 2:30 P.M. Those interested in attending should sign up at www.phillybailfund.org/bailwatch, text 267-961-3391, or contact Cal Barnett-Mayotte ’18.
PHILADELPHIA– On Wednesday, April 18, The Philadelphia Bail Fund and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts today jointly launched Philadelphia Bail Watch(TM), a community-based court watch program created to monitor preliminary arraignments – also known as bail hearings – in Philadelphia’s Municipal Court. The joint project aims to increase public awareness of bail proceedings and their impact on pretrial detention and bail policy.
“Every day in Philadelphia, in hearings that often last no more than 90 seconds, bail commissioners decide whether or not a person remains free while awaiting trial. For people who cannot afford their cash bail – even a few hundred dollars – they must choose to either plead guilty or sit in jail for weeks, months, or years without ever being convicted of a crime. This is a false choice,” said Malik Neal, Vice President of the Philadelphia Bail Fund, an organization which advocates for the end of cash bail in Philadelphia. “We developed Philadelphia Bail Watch with Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts because we believe there is a need to shine light on the current preliminary arraignment process, where money bail decisions are rapidly made and, ultimately, people’s access to freedom pretrial is determined,” he continued.
The program held its first official court watch on Saturday, April 21, 2018 with a group of volunteers observing preliminary arraignment hearings at the Criminal Justice Center, 1301 Filbert St., Philadelphia. Court watchers will take note when prosecutors request bail, and collect such information as criminal charges, bail amounts, and general impressions and anecdotes. The group plans to share its preliminary findings through updates on its website every two weeks and with a findings report to be released in the summer of 2018.
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is a respected Pennsylvania organization with a history of educating the public about the judiciary and court-related issues. Maida Milone, President and CEO of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts believes the Bail Watch program is a natural outgrowth of PMC Watches(TM), the organization’s volunteer court monitoring program. “Through Philadelphia Bail Watch, we hope to encourage community members to witness the preliminary arraignment process themselves and learn about what is happening in our courts. Community participation and engagement in our justice system is integral to making it more fair, equitable and, ultimately, just,” concluded Ms. Milone.
“Through a number of informal observations, Philadelphia Bail Fund has noticed troubling issues in the preliminary arraignment process. For example, defendants do not appear in person before the magistrate for preliminary arraignment hearings and, rather, are ‘present’ through the use of live video conferencing technology. Also, defendants have no opportunity to speak privately with a public defender before or during their hearings. As a result of these and other important concerns, we determined the need for a more formal means of observing proceedings and engaging the public in our project,” said Zoe Goldberg, Philadelphia Bail Watch Coordinator and volunteer with the Philadelphia Bail Fund.
Philadelphia Bail Watch comes in the wake of District Attorney Larry Krasner’s announcement that his office will no longer seek cash bail for certain, low-level offenses. “Krasner’s new policy marks an important step towards ensuring our city’s pre-trial system is more just and fair,” said Cal Barnett-Mayotte, Swarthmore ’18, Philadelphia Bail Watch Coordinator and volunteer with the Philadelphia Bail Fund, “but, as concerned citizens, it is our job to make sure these policies are achieving their intended goal and advocate for broader reform of our cash bail system.”
“Decisions made in preliminary arraignments can severely disrupt people’s lives, pushing individuals further into a cycle of poverty and unemployment ,” said Regina Paparo, Program Director at Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts and an AmeriCorps VISTA. “This watchdog program has the potential not only to serve an educational function but also to ensure a robustly accountable court system.”
Philadelphia Bail Watch will host trainings for interested court watchers and attend preliminary arraignment hearings. The first training will be held tomorrow, April 28, 2018 beginning at 2:30 p.m. Participation in Philadelphia Bail Watch trainings is free, but registration is required due to space limitations. People interested in participating in a Philadelphia Bail Watch training should sign up online at www.phillybailfund.org/bailwatch or text 267-961-3391 indicating their availability. Preliminary arraignment hearings are open to the public and take place multiple times a day, seven days a week, in the Criminal Justice Center, 1301 Filbert St., Philadelphia PA 19107.
About the Philadelphia Bail Fund
The Philadelphia Bail Fund is a 501(c)(3) charitable bail organization that was founded in May 2017. The Fund prevents unnecessary pretrial detention by paying bail for Philadelphians who cannot afford their own bail and advocates for the end of cash bail in Philadelphia. The goal of the Philadelphia Bail Fund is to shift Philadelphia’s bail system from one that is based on wealth to a fairer and more effective system based on a presumption of release before trial, except in the most exceptional circumstances.
Philadelphia Bail Fund, email@example.com, 267-961-3391
About Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts was founded in 1988 and is the only statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to ensuring that all Pennsylvanians can come to court with confidence that they will be heard by qualified, fair, and impartial judges. A key tenet of PMC’s work is to engage and educate Pennsylvanians to foster a better understanding of local courts, and their place in the judicial system.
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, firstname.lastname@example.org, 215-569-1150
Featured image contributed by Cal Barnett-Mayotte ’18.