An astonishing drop in Philadelphia’s prison population over the last year has saved at least $9 million and highlighted what appear to be groundbreaking changes in the way courts and prisons operate, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. At 8,424 inmates yesterday, city jails held 1,430 fewer prisoners than at the daily peak of 9,854 reached in January 2009. That’s still a far cry from the system’s designed capacity of 6,910 that has drawn lawsuits on prison conditions and overcrowding. But the shrinking number of inmates has heartened judges who want to move defendants through the system more efficiently.
Top officials are talking not about building prisons, but about closing one or more of the city’s six facilities. Just how much a falling crime rate – 10 percent downbetween 2007 and 2009 – is responsible for the drop is not clear. It does appear that reforms undertaken to shorten unnecessary jail stays for nonviolent, low-level offenders have made an impact. “They finally made a concerted effort,” said University of Pennsylvania Law School fellow David Rudovsky, who has spent four decades suing the city over its overcrowded prisons. “That’s a significant reduction.  I think it’s been done without any risk to public safety, and I think the people who have gotten out should be out.”