Philadelphia District Attorney plans use of “zone courts”

    The concept of zone courts is simple – a prosecutor focusing on a specific zone will become more familiar with the neighborhoods and crime patterns.

    Philadelphia’s District Attorney Seth Williams is trying to redo the way the courts handle cases, assigning prosecutors to handle cases from specific geographical areas.

    The concept of zone courts is simple – a prosecutor focusing on a specific zone will become more familiar with the neighborhoods and crime patterns. Deputy District Attorney Ed McCann says that, once the cases are grouped together, putting them on the same floor of the criminal justice center will also help.

    “A lot of cases now are continued or dismissed,” says McCann, “because a lot of people aren’t in the right place at the right time. Obviously, if the police were on the same floor, it would be easier to have them go be in several places at a short period of time.”

    Courts Administrator Dave Lawrence says the plan will increase activity in the already crowded Criminal Justice Center as hearings now held in police districts migrate to center city.

    Lawrence said the courts will try to alleviate congestion in the building by staggering start times for hearings.

    “Even making small adjustments,” says Lawrence, “like not having everybody show up at 9 [o’clock], some people showing up at 8:30, some at 9:30, could make a huge impact on how people flow into the building.”

    At the earliest, the changes will begin this fall at the earliest. It could be until early next year before the system is fully implemented.

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