Controller Butkovitz Finds City Could Save $75 Million by Eliminating Cash Bail

For Immediate Release
Oct. 11, 2017

Contact:  Brian Dries

Controller Butkovitz Finds City Could Save $75 Million by Eliminating Cash Bail
City Controller’s economic impact study details savings & alternative to jail for thousands of nonviolent offenders 

PHILADELPHIA – City Controller Alan Butkovitz today released an economic impact study of the City of Philadelphia’s Cash Bail that found the city could save $75 million annually by eliminating cash bail and providing an alternative for thousands arrested for nonviolent offenses.

By eliminating cash bail, Philadelphia’s total prison population would be reduced from more than 6,500 to less than 4,700.  Additionally, reducing the prison population would allow for the city to close the House of Corrections and the Detention Center, saving $75 million annually net the potential cash bail payments.

“It costs the city tens of millions of dollars every year to house individuals waiting for trials involving vandalism, fraud and drug abuse,” said Controller Butkovitz.  “This can cause more damage on the incarcerated and their families and places a financial strain on the justice system.”

Of the nearly 4,359 total offenders held pretrial in Philadelphia’s jails, nearly 33 percent are held because they cannot afford cash bail.  One in three could be released on less than $5,000.

“Eliminating the direct costs alone would allow Philadelphia to focus more of its resources on reducing recidivism and reentry programs,” said Controller Butkovitz. 

According to Controller Butkovitz, the city could employ measures of monitoring for low-risk offenders to ensure that they appear for court.  This includes passive supervision, automated reminders, text and email reminders. Many of these provisions have already been put in place through Philadelphia’s Committee on Criminal Justice Reform and the MacArthur Grant initiatives.

“Councilman Curtis Jones has made this a top priority and he along with the Defender’s Association are to be commended for establishing a sound framework,” said Controller Butkovitz.  “Other cities have taken the steps to implementing measures that work and Philadelphia needs to follow their lead.”

In addition, the City Controller’s study determined that the costs incurred by the taxpayer of incarceration as well as the direct costs to the jailed and their family total approximately $531 day, most of which are costs absorbed by the family.  Indirect costs include loss of income, loss of housing, childcare costs, loss of tax revenue and social services.

“Monetary bail proves a significant challenge for those incarcerated, their families and for the City of Philadelphia,” said Controller Butkovitz.  “Every low-risk offender employed in a job in Philadelphia represents an opportunity in wages for the work and for the city.”

The City Controller’s study indicates that putting more than 1,440 low-risk offenders back to work in construction and service industries in Philadelphia supporting city-build initiatives would support 900 additional jobs and produce nearly $3.8 million in additional economic impact within the city.

“The city must restructure, reinvest and remove barriers for true reform to occur,” said Controller Butkovitz.  “Philadelphia needs to look to the future and close antiquated, unsafe and costly facilities, while developing preventative programs that deter youth from crime.”