During a presentation to the Philadelphia Bar Association's Criminal Justice Section last week, Philadelphia Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison said the city's prison system wouldn't dominate Mayor Michael Nutter's criminal justice policy-making. But Gillison said that the administration aims to provide leadership for criminal justice stakeholders to evolve from bureaucratic infighting over systemic problems like prison overcrowding to tackling the problems head-on.
Gillison has written bylaws for a Criminal Justice Advisory Board, which is a model used to get criminal justice stakeholders into the same room in other Pennsylvania counties under the behest of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Gillison said.
"I think this is an exciting time. We are going to be able to go forward," Gillison said.
Gillison said he has been talking to the First Judicial District and District Attorney Lynne Abraham about what criteria could be instituted to divert some inmates out of the city prison system more quickly and ease up on overcrowding.
Gillison noted that of the estimated 9,300 inmates, 60 percent are in jail on a pretrial basis.
Gillison also said that the executive branch has some leverage in its goals because of its budgetary power over the courts, since the state is not funding most court functions despite Pennsylvania Supreme Court decisions ruling otherwise.
For those inmates re-entering society after serving a local or a state prison term, Gillison said retooling the Mayor's Office on Re-entry is important. The best anti-recidivism program for an ex-offender is a job, he said.
Programs that help people get out of jail on a diversionary basis need increased funding, he said. Gillison promised to track what programs work and close out programs that aren't working.
Gillison hopes to roll out an initial global position system inmate-monitoring project by September.
He also said Philadelphia needs a waiver for former inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes to get welfare and other government support services.
He said the backlog of 38,000 outstanding misdemeanor warrants can be tackled with programs like the peaceful surrender program in which clergy will encourage members of their ministry wanted on charges to turn themselves in.
The mayor has also expressed a desire to have three more community courts instituted by the end of his first term, Gillison said.
Gillison said that the roll-out of 205 surveillance cameras by the end of the year – an initiative first started by the Mayor John Street administration -- has been slowed in order to institute data collection from those cameras and figure out the best way to preserve camera footage for at least 30 days to be available to both prosecutors and defense counsel in criminal cases.
Gillison noted that there is a federal lawsuit pending regarding the fees paid by the Philadelphia government to private counsel taking court-appointed criminal cases. Gillison said that he couldn't comment deeply on the matter because of the pending litigation, but he said that Troy Wilson, chair of the criminal justice section, has provided background information to him and that Nutter has instructed him to take a look at the issue.
Gillison, a former public defender, also said he is examining funding parity between the Public Defender and the District Attorney in Philadelphia.
Wilson said in an interview that he takes Gillison at his word that the administration wants to resolve the issue, despite the pending civil lawsuit.
"I think he and the mayor understand the importance and the necessity of quality of court-appointed counsel," Wilson said.
- Amaris Elliott-Engel, Staff Reporter