Policy hearing explores cash bail in PA

Lawmakers explore economic and community impact of cash bail, learn how it was successfully eliminated in the state of New Jersey.

HARRISBURG, April 27 – During a PA House Democratic Policy Committee hearing today in Harrisburg, lawmakers explored cash bail in Pennsylvania and what eliminating it here would do to address systemic business and community issues. State Reps. Summer Lee and Peter Schweyer held the hearing at this morning at the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

Lawmakers heard from business leaders, cash bail reform advocates, legal system experts, and a representative from New Jersey’s state legislature, where they successfully eliminated cash bail.

First to testify was Mike Dershowitz, business leader and founder of the PA Pretrial Partnership, a group of business leaders focused on addressing the issue of cash bail because it impacts their ability to operate effectively in Pennsylvania. Dershowitz shared his perspective that the economics of eliminating cash bail are sound because it would allow people to continue working and maintain a stable family and home.

“When people can’t meet bail, they spend lengthy periods of time in jail, putting employment, housing, child custody and other means of a stable and productive life at risk,” Schweyer said. “Changing how we impose cash bail in Pennsylvania needs to change and it’s important that we look to examples of where it's been successfully eliminated so that we can learn how to do so here.”

Lawmakers heard from Kevin Drennan, executive director of the State Senate of New Jersey who was with the legislature as it was eliminating cash bail in New Jersey. Drennan called New Jersey’s cash bail reform effort a true success, saying the state was able to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals by 6,000 with no increase in crime. Drennan explained he and his team brought together the NAACP, legal experts, law enforcement, and legislators to achieve smart and effective cash bail reform.

Lawmakers also heard compelling testimony from two activists in Allegheny County who have first-hand experience with the impacts cash bail has on communities there. They, along with experts in the legal system, showed that the cash bail system in Pennsylvania increases the likelihood of recidivism, disproportionately impacts communities of color, and does not do what it was intended to do: secure attendance at future court hearings. 

State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, chair of the PA House Democratic Policy Committee, added: “Cash bail is something that we’ve been talking about for a long time because of how it impacts the families and the jobs people have in our Commonwealth. It’s clear that this issue is top-of-mind for so many of us in our caucus. I’m grateful to the testifiers to speak on the topic of cash bail and where it’s successfully been eliminated.”

More than 25 House lawmakers from across the Commonwealth attended the hearing.

Information about this and other PA House Democratic Policy Committee hearings can be found at pahouse.com/policycommittee