The Philadelphia Courts are owed about a billion dollars in bail from no-shows.
To help solve that problem, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has issued a report offering options for the city courts to crack down on fugitives who duck court. It advises jailing those fugitives in newly freed up city prison cells or trying them in absentia according to a report released today.
State Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery, who says these bail jumpers have no respect for the system, said he believes that will change.
“We’re about to move forward and make Philadelphia and its citizens very proud of its court system,” McCaffery said.
The report, put out by the state Supreme Court, is more than just a recommendation. As a cooperative effort aimed at fixing problems in the Philadelphia courts continues, McCaffery said the courts are working to make sure people out on bail understand they cannot miss court appearances.
“Without a reasonable explanation as to your failure to appear, you will be incarcerated,” he said. “The jail space is now open … we have over a thousand free beds in our prison system and we need to send a message that when you sign a subpoena when you are supposed to be at trial at court you will be there. If you are not, you will go to jail.”
Walter Phillips, the former chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, said the report is a move in a positive direction.
“I think it shows there is a real change of attitude and that the criminal justice system is coming to grips with the problems.” Phillips said. “I think a lot of the steps and initiatives that are listed in the report are very, very positive.”
McCaffery said moving forward, it will be a different court system than in the past.
“We want everyone to understand that our courts are going to be all about fairness, promptness, efficiency and last, but not least, cost-effective,” he said.