U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) is calling for $200 million in federal money over five years to help states extradite fugitives and enter warrants into a national database that tracks wanted criminals, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Specter said the bill was introduced in response to an Inquirer series that he described as “a blistering indictment of the Philadelphia criminal justice system.” In December, the newspaper reported that the city’s courts are in crisis, beset by low conviction rates, the dismissal of thousands of cases ahead of trial, virulent witness intimidation, and a massive fugitive problem.
Philadelphia is tied with Newark, N.J., for the nation’s highest fugitive rate, according to U.S. Justice Department statistics, and its defendants skip court with virtual impunity. At last count, there were nearly 47,000 fugitives from Philadelphia criminal courts, and the city had an uncollected debt of $1 billion in forfeited bail. To make matters worse, the Philadelphia courts have delayed for years sharing bench warrants with the FBI’s national database of wanted criminals. Specter, a former Philadelphia district attorney, called that “an enormous problem.” “It makes the criminal justice system a laughingstock if you can flee and there’s no record of your flight,” he said, “and you’re apprehended somewhere, but you’re not returned for trial.”