Lehigh County Controller calls from for criminal justice reform, officials question his authority

Written by on June 26, 2020

Lehigh County Controller calls from for criminal justice reform, officials question his authority 

By Staci Inez

June 26, 2020

Photo | Staci Inez / WLVR

This week Lehigh County Controller, Mark Pinsley, called for criminal justice reform. He’s the watchdog for county finances. Pinsley has been looking into data on cash bail in the jails and courts, and some county officials have said: it’s not his purview. WVLR’s Staci Inez spoke with Pinsley this week. 

Mark Pinsley says nearly 70 percent of Lehigh County’s budget goes toward quote “law and order.” And with the current movement for social justice across the country – he says he sees an opportunity for change. 

“So one of the things I was interested in particularly was how many people were stuck in jail, not because they were found guilty, they haven’t been found guilty yet…they’re stuck in jail because they can’t pay their bail… and to the extent that we can reduce the amount of people in jail, we can potentially reduce the cost of our jail.”

But the District attorney’s office says Pinsley doesn’t have knowledge of the courts and rejects his call to action. And Lehigh County officials say the county has already been making progress toward reforms. Phil Armstrong is the county’s executive. 

“We have, this year for the first time, put a social worker in our department of public defender, so the minute you come into our public defender’s office, instead of just being assigned to a lawyer, our social worker is going to help you through the process and try to get you out as soon as possible.”

Pinsley has called on the citizens of Lehigh County to form a coalition to re-examine criminal justice in Lehigh County. As he says, his role does not directly allow him to spark that kind of change.


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