A huge percentage of people in Pennsylvania’s jails have not been convicted of the offenses for which they’re being held. They’re languishing behind bars while waiting — often for weeks or months — for trials or hearings about their alleged offenses, simply because they’re unable to afford bail, or because they’re not being granted the opportunity to be bailed out.
Discretionary judicial decisions on the questions of whether to set bail for defendants (and if so, at what amount), and whether to incarcerate people who are alleged to have violated their probationary terms, vary widely and are often racially biased or otherwise problematic.
Incarceration of even a few days can have enormous negative effects on the individuals who are detained, as well as their loved ones and communities. Even a short stay in jail can impact people’s mental and physical health, employment, housing, custody of their children, and overall stability of their own lives and those of their family members. Longer stays compound all of these problems.
ALC uses many tactics to address the harms of pre-trial and probation-related detention, including litigation, strategic communications, community organizing, and our Court Watch program:
- In October 2022 we filed Horton v. Rangos, a major class-action suit challenging unconstitutional probation detention practices in Allegheny County.
- We lobby as allowed; propose harm-reduction programs and interventions; and organize rallies, panels, and other events to educate the public and elected officials about existing and proposed detention-related policies and legislation.
- And we’ve produced four major reports that illuminate these issues: Cash Bail, Arbitrary Detention, and Apartheid in Allegheny County Jail (2020); Maintaining Apartheid: Arrest and Cash Bail in Allegheny County (2021); Death Making Institutions: How Police, Probation, and the Judiciary Caused Gerald Thomas to Die in Jail (2022); and Probation in Allegheny County (2023).
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