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Philadelphia To Pay Bail Funds Over Lack Of Out-Of-Cell Time

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Philadelphia will pay a one-time $125,000 fine to two local bail funds after a judge found reasonable evidence that the city had violated a court order to allow three hours of out-of-cell time for people incarcerated at its prison facilities.

A hearing scheduled for Wednesday for contempt of court motions was canceled in lieu of the city's agreement to pay the settlement. An ongoing class action lawsuit over conditions at the city's jails was filed in April of last year by 10 inmates and cited deteriorating conditions in several of the facilities including mold and exposed wiring as well as some inmates complaining of 24-hour lockdowns.

Lawyers with the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and two private law firms, who filed the federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the prisoners, said the continual lockdowns meant prisoners had no contact with their families through phone calls, no time to shower and inadequate exercise.

Attorneys for the inmates said they filed the contempt motion after receiving consistent reports that inmates were not getting out-of-cell time in compliance with the January 2021 court order.

City spokesperson Deana Gamble said the complaints were focused on incidents from the end of May and beginning of June. She said the city decided the settlement agreement was in the best interest of the taxpayers and the inmate population, saying low community and facility COVID infection rates have started allowing for larger groups of inmates to be out of their cells at the same time and for longer periods of time.

The money will be paid directly to the Philadelphia Bail Fund and the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, both of which work to secure pre-trial release for people who remain in jail solely because they can't afford the bail set in their cases. It was unclear Wednesday how many people would be released with the funds.

“We’re encouraged that the City is taking steps to improve conditions in the jails,” Candace McKinley, lead organizer with the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund wrote in an emailed statement. “But these are small steps compared to what is needed, including large reductions in the jail population.”

According to court documents, jail officials will have until July 12 to show they've made reasonable efforts to increase out-of-cell time beyond what is mandated by the court, as well as to produce a plan to return to pre-pandemic operating levels.

The court orders in place require the jail to implement a plan that allows 4.5 to 5 hours of time outside of cells for vaccinated units, 3.5 hours per day for general population, 3 hours for quarantined units and one hour for those held in segregation units like protective custody.

Associated Press