Lee: Cash bail reforms needed to address racial inequities, public health and safety

HARRISBURG, March 18 – State Rep. Summer Lee today hosted a hearing of the Subcommittee on Progressive Policies for Working People, bringing together advocates statewide to highlight the need for eliminating cash bail in Pennsylvania.

The hearing’s first panel included Larry Krasner, district attorney, city of Philadelphia; Bethany Hallam, at-large member, Allegheny County Council; Jessica Lopez, community activist and Lancaster County resident; and Muhammad “MAN-E” Ali Nasir, community activist and co-founder of Jailbreak PGH.

Krasner highlighted reforms Philadelphia implemented that resulted in public health and safety improvements through the pandemic and called for reforms at the state level. Hallam, Lopez and Nasir shared their personal experiences with cash bail that exposed systemic racism and traumatic practices that ignored the presumption of innocence and implemented punitive detainment practices.

Lee, D-Allegheny, said, “While we must eliminate debtors’ prisons, we cannot replace it with other pre-trial practices and conditions that impose unjust and harmful physical and financial barriers for folks who -- until convicted by a jury of their peers -- are presumed innocent! We have to proceed with caution to ensure we're not replacing one harm with another. Today’s discussion clearly showed the benefits to eliminating cash bail and making the system more fair and equitable.”

“Cash bail punishes people based on their access to money, criminalizing poverty. The repercussions of pre-trial detention can be devastating for an individual, their family, and their community -- to levy these consequences based on if someone can afford to pay bail is not justice,” said Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, chair of the Subcommittee.

Thea Sebastian, director of policy, Civil Rights Corps; Jessica Li, criminal justice investigator, American Civil Liberties Union; Dolly Prabhu, staff attorney and Equal Justice Works fellow, Abolition Law Center; and Mikhail Pappas, judge, Fifth Judicial District, Allegheny County, participated in the second panel and shared social concerns and policy recommendations for the state legislature.

Full hearing testimony and video of today’s hearing are available here.