ACLU sues Philadelphia courts over cash bail system

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a class action Tuesday challenging Philadelphia's system of cash bail. The plaintiffs claim the city's magistrates fail to follow proper bail procedure.

The lawsuit is brought on behalf of more than a half-dozen individuals who have been jailed on bails they could not afford.

"They're setting bail based on the charge, and sometimes based on someone's criminal history, but that is not what they are supposed to do," said Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of ACLU of Pennsylvania. 

At presser where @aclupa has filed a class action in @PASupremeCt to force courts to follow bail procedures. Argument is Bail Commish is setting bail too high for people to pay. More on @KYWNewsradio #endcashbail

— Cherri Gregg (@cherrigregg) March 12, 2019

Roper says their volunteers sat in on 2,000 arraignments over the past year. The suit names all six bail magistrates, claiming they hold hearings that are on average less than two minutes, with minimal discussion about a defendant's ability to pay. 

"It's not about how how bad the accusations are, it's about whether you're going to come back to court and about whether you are a danger," Roper said. 

Joshua Glenn, who runs the Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project, one of the non-profit plaintiffs in the case, said, "At the age of 16, I was locked up, charged as an adult and held in prison for 18 months."

His charges were dismissed, but he believes the current bail system keeps poor defendants in jail — so they lose jobs, homes and families.

"That's not what bail is supposed to be used for," Glenn said, "and so we just want them to do their job and follow the rules."

A spokesman for the First Judicial District declined to comment.