Report: Almost half of people awaiting trial can’t make bail

Written by on January 28, 2021

Report: Almost half of people awaiting trial can’t make bail

By Tyler Pratt

January 28, 2021

FILE – This June 1, 2018, file photo, shows a housing unit in the west section of the State Correctional Institution at Phoenix in Collegeville, Pa. The first phase of transferring more than 2,500 inmates from the 89-year-old state prison at Graterford to the long-delayed $400 million SCI Phoenix prison began Wednesday, July 11, 2018, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, which plans to bus hundreds of inmates a day to the new prison facility about a mile down the road until all are relocated. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma, File)

Lehigh County’s fiscal watchdog is advocating for bail reform. 

Listen to the story.

In a new report, Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley finds that nearly half of people who’ve been arrested and are waiting for trial can’t make bail. The report suggests that bail amounts are not equitable. 

The controller’s office had a data analytics company to look at all recorded offenses in 2019. Almost 50% of detainees couldn’t make bail and were held in jail.

“One of the things we found, or at least the data showed, was that a person that was in there for a summary offense, the lowest offense you can get, on average is stuck in there for eight days,”  Pinsley says.  

The report also found some judges may issue higher bail than others. And African-Americans, in many cases, have to pay more. When it comes to Hispanic people, however, the data is less clear. 

“We were unable to determine whether Hispanics were put into a white or Black category and that should be something that is easier to tell so we can see if there is any correlation to how much you are paying in bail and how often you are locked up.

Pinsley says the county should reform cash bail. And with COVID-19 impacting the jail population, he says taking action is urgent. 

Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin declined to comment for this story. A representative for his office said Martin did not want to get into a public debate with Pinsley on this issue.

Pinsley’s report is available on the county controller website.

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