Philly courts announce new protocols that could swiftly reduce inmate populations as coronavirus cases increase in city jails

By KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Philadelphia courts announced new protocols for the expedited review of cases for those locked inside of the city's jails. Justice reform advocates have been sounding the alarm as the number of coronavirus infections behind the wall has ticked up. 

As of Friday, 31 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, up from 20 on Thursday.

"What we've tried to put in place is a process that's dependable and proceeds at a decent rate,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. 

Kenney said the new court protocols will consider individuals on a case by case basis to quickly reduce inmate populations and limit infections.

"It has to be done in a thorough way to make sure people are safe and we're not releasing the wrong people,” he added.

Under the new protocols, judges will prioritize review of cases where defendants have been convicted of economic crimes, have served their minimum sentence or where bail is less than $25,000 and the individual has no sexual, violent, gun or drug offenses.

"These are people that will not upset public safety if we release them,” said chief of the Defender Association Keir Bradford-Grey.

Bradford-Grey estimates anywhere from 100 to 1,500 of the more than 4,000 inmates in Philadelphia jails could fall into these categories, and releases could begin as early as next week.  

Meanwhile, inside the prisons, Managing Director Brian Abernathy said there are new safeguards — all inmates will get masked and shelter in place.

"Inmates will only be allowed out of their cells for showers and phone calls. Food will be delivered cell to cell,” Abernathy said. 

Safeguards for staff include temperature and symptom checks as well as protective equipment.