From a wholesale reorganization of the courthouse to an influx of money to relocate frightened witnesses, the Philadelphia criminal-justice system has experienced a year of upheaval and reform, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. After an Inquirer series portrayed the courts in crisis – plagued by abysmal conviction rates, unchecked witness intimidation, and a massive fugitive count – top judges and the new district attorney have pushed through a host of changes. More cases are going to trial and being decided on their merits, fewer cases are collapsing for procedural reasons, and conviction rates are rising.
The changes came at the insistence of two Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices, Chief Justice Ronald Castille and Seamus McCaffery. Despite grumbling, skepticism, and passive resistance from some city judges, the justices imposed a series of directives that have dramatically reshaped the court arena. District Attorney Seth Williams, who took office in January, put forth an ambitious agenda of his own and worked with the justices to effect change. Early statistics seem to show that the changes are paying off.