Sending someone to prison in Pennsylvania costs around $42,000 a year by conservative estimates. So if a prosecutor is requesting a five-year sentence, they would have to justify not only an approximate $210,000 cost to taxpayers but also the decision to interrupt the convicted person’s connection to family, employment, and access to public benefits.
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When diversion is done well its results can be significant. Cook County’s diversion program (in Illinois), which is widely recognized as a model, is an example: a year after finishing felony diversion, 97 percent of graduates have no new felony arrests, and 86 percent have no new arrests of any kind.
“Practically speaking, this is going to be a huge benefit to the low-income people of Tennessee who are going to be able to drive to work, take their kids to school, go to the grocery store, visit the doctor, without fear of being arrested and prosecuted for driving without a license,” Claudia Wilner, a senior attorney with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, said.
A growing number of cities and states have taken significant steps to alter their cash bail systems. But Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and, a month earlier, the Manhattan district attorney, appear to be the first DAs in major cities to attempt reform through the prosecutor’s office.
“Money doesn’t guarantee that people won’t engage in new criminal activity,” says Insha Rahman, an expert on bail reform at the Vera Institute of Justice, “and it doesn’t guarantee that people will come back to court.”
People lacking a permanent address often don’t know when they are supposed to appear in court. And they don’t have the money to pay the fines that follow.
Ventura County Superior Court Judge Brian J. Back, a co-chair of the group, said requiring defendants to post money bail unfairly punishes the poor. “Thousands of Californians who pose no risk to the public are held in jail before trial, while others charged with serious or violent offenses may pose a high risk and can buy their freedom simply by bailing out,” Back said.
Our nation’s more than 300 mental-health courts advance justice. A 2009 study by the MacArthur Foundation and the Council of State Governments found they cut criminal recidivism of participants by 20 percent to 25 percent and provide better links to mental-health treatment that lead to productive lives.
The Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear a challenge to Ramsey County, Minnesota’s fund-raising efforts, which are part of a national trend to extract fees and fines from people who find themselves enmeshed in the criminal justice system.
At the National Mental Health Court Summit earlier this month, Logan Police Sgt. Louise Speth shared a story that has been burned into her memory since the night it happened eight years ago.