On April 11th, we sent this open letter to the leaders of the Philadelphia courts – we are watching their response to the COVID-19 crisis in Philly jails and will hold them accountable.

First Judicial District Judges, 

The Judicial Accountability Table (JAT) endorses the demands of the No215 Jail Coalition and the Defenders Union, who have called for expedited measures to drastically reduce the populations of local jails and prisons. In particular, the JAT notes that the judges of the First Judicial District have delayed reviewing release requests despite agreement from the Defender Association and the District Attorney, and have only agreed to review cases in certain narrow categories that make up a small percentage of the total jail percentage. These measures are too limited and too slow to protect our communities against this deadly threat. The JAT urges the First Judicial District to adopt the broader-based and more efficient measures advocated by the Defender Association and others. 

The JAT is a coalition of organizations working toward a shared mission of holding judicial candidates and judges accountable to our community’s vision of justice. The organizations of the JAT include: Reclaim Philadelphia, Project SAFE, Philadelphia DSA – LILAC, 215 People’s Alliance, Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project, Amistad Law Project, Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI), The Center for Carceral Communities, ICE out of Courts, Pennsylvania Student Power Network, Make The Road Pennsylvania, DecarceratePA, Black Lives Matter Philadelphia.  Prior to the 2019 primary, the JAT circulated a candidate questionnaire that was completed by thirty of the forty judicial candidates, and hosted a candidate forum that 250 Philadelphians attended. In 2021, the JAT plans to expand our efforts to educate the public about both the candidates for open judicial seats and the judges seeking our support for their retention.

Currently, our nation is facing a deadly pandemic that has sickened over 330,000 and killed nearly 9,000. Public health officials have made clear that the only way to slow the spread of COVID-19 is to practice effective social distancing. Yet such social distancing is impossible in prisons and jails. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the virus has spread rapidly in local and state jails and prisons. Fifty-four people in Philadelphia jails have tested positive for the virus, making the infection rate within the department of prisons higher than that of New York City or Wuhan, China. The only way to slow the spread of COVID-19 is prisons and jails is to dramatically reduce their populations. 

The health and safety of our communities is at the core of the JAT’s platform. Therefore, we are carefully watching the responses of the First Judicial District and of the individual judges tasked with approving releases during this crisis. We will make educating voters about these responses a priority during the 2021 judicial election cycle.

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