Incarceration contributes to poverty by creating employment barriers; reducing earnings and decreasing economic security through criminal debt, fees, and fines; making access to public benefits difficult or impossible
The report cites six primary causes for the excessive detainment. First, in 113 municipal police department detain violators at different rates, but all have the option to “cite and release” for minor crimes if the officer believe the actor will appear in court as required later on. Pittsburgh police use this option the least.
Secondly, district judges are detaining people prior to trial and ordering monetary bonds that keep low-risk defendants behind bars. Add to that the fact that the Public Defenders office does not have the resources to have counsel available at that stage of the process to advocate for release of indigent defendants pending trial.
Fourth, the charging decisions made by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office can play a huge role. “Overcharging” rose nationally by 129 percent through the 1990s and 2000s. Allegheny County data show 36 percent of felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors.
Fifth, judges sentence people to unusually long or consecutive terms of probation—almost guaranteeing a technical violation can occur—and set fines and fees that do not consider the ability to pay. Failure to pay voids the probation.
Lastly, the time it takes to move individuals through the process—from booking to initial appearance before a judge—can keep them locked up longer than necessary
To address these issues, the report makes 18 district recommendations that include:
•Police, justices and prosecutors developing and using alternative sentencing—such as diverting individuals who otherwise might have been charged with nonviolent offenses into community-based treatment and support services at the point of arrest;
•Judges eliminating consecutive probation terms, reducing probation terms to agree with national standards;
•Judges greatly reducing the use of monetary bonds and pre-trail incarceration to only those cases where there is a high risk to public safety;
•Public defenders being made available at initial arraignments where decisions on jail or release are made;
•The district attorney guarding against overcharging, and
•The Allegheny County executive creating a criminal justice system coordinator position, reporting to the county manager and focused on monitoring the criminal justice system, to better manage the criminal justice system and advance the goals of maintaining public safety, enhancing equity, and reducing costs.
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