Letting People Leave Jail with Their Money and ID Should Be an Easy Fix
Inquirer Editorial Board - August 16, 2019
The move toward criminal justice reform in recent years has shed light on the darkest corners of our jails and prisons, such as solitary confinement and cash bail. But there are still many areas that still need light — and enlightenment. The latest example is the discovery that most people are being released from Philadelphia’s jails without identification, cash, or other belongings.
According to an Inquirer report by Pranshu Verma, between April 2017 and April 2018, more than 16,000 people were released from Philadelphia’s jails without their personal possessions because the jail’s cashier’s office was closed. That’s 73 percent of all people released who are expected to start their life post-incarceration with no ID, cash or cards, phone, house keys, or any other possession that they might have had on them when they were arrested. They can get two SEPTA tokens and wait for a bus on State Road. The lucky ones are released before 1 a.m. when buses are still operating. Those less fortunate, 1,100 people during that year, are released onto the street even if it’s hours before the buses start operating in the morning.
The guiding principle of releasing people from jail is that no person should be incarcerated for a minute longer than necessary. That means that releases happen around the clock, even though the cashier’s officers have limited hours.
The obvious and simplest answer is to get 24/7 cashier coverage. But the Department of Prisons doesn’t intend to do that; instead, it’s working with the courts on getting signed release orders in real time so that the jail could start processing them earlier and releases won’t be carried into the night. They say they have met some technical difficulties but hope to have a system in place by September.
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