Philadelphia has succeeded in launching several citywide collaborations aimed at reducing its jail population and improving the criminal justice system overall. The District Attorney’s Office joined with the Defender Association of Philadelphia and First Judicial District of Pennsylvania to build a program that provides diversion from traditional prosecution for non-violent offenders. Philadelphia has also established the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition, a broad coalition of leaders that are working together to reduce recidivism, which includes not only government agencies, but also advocates and service providers. To continue building on these past reform efforts, Philadelphia was awarded $3.5 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge in 2016 to invest in strategies that will safely reduce the average daily jail population over the next three years.

Despite recent system improvements and a steady reduction in the jail population, Philadelphia still has the highest incarceration rate of any large jurisdiction in the country. To address its over-reliance on jails, Philadelphia will implement a range of strategies that will limit jail admissions, reduce case processing times, increase pretrial supervision and services, and reduce its reliance on cash bail. The city will also create new opportunities for the diversion of individuals who are a low risk to public safety, as determined by a new needs assessment tool. These individuals will be supervised through community-based alternatives to jail. In addition, the city will develop an auditing process to better track racial and ethnic disparities in the system, while also carrying out an implicit and explicit bias training program for employees in all of the criminal justice system agencies.


Office of Public Safety, City of Philadelphia


Philadelphia Prison System, the Office of the District Attorney, the Defender Association of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Police Department, the First Judicial District and its operational units, and the member organizations comprising the Criminal Justice Advisory Board






  • 60% of the city’s jail population is comprised of individuals that are awaiting trial, the vast majority of whom were detained for nonviolent offenses.
  • 72% of individuals awaiting trial are African American.
  • The average length of stay for detainees is around 95 days—four times the national average.


  • Developing and implementing a pre-arrest diversion pilot program in two adjoining districts that have particularly high rates of racial and ethnic disparity at the point of arrest.
  • A new needs assessment tool will connect individuals who pose a low risk to supervised, community-based alternatives rather than rely on cash bail.
  • Developing an auditing process to better track disparities in the system, while also carrying out an implicit and explicit bias training program for all.


  • In addition to the $3.5 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge, the will be investing more than $2 million in reform efforts over the next two years with the goal of decreasing the jail population by 34%.