US

Philadelphia Stops Jailing Drug Dealers Amid Heroin Trafficking Surge

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) calls Philadelphia one of the largest heroin markets in the U.S., but city officials announced Friday that in the last two years, they have reduced prison populations by nearly 20 percent, often by not imprisoning drug offenders.

The city’s drug problem has only been growing since 2015 when Philadelphia first began implementing justice reforms, letting more drug offenders out of prison. On average, there are 1,500 fewer inmates in Philadelphia jails on any given day than there were in 2015, BillyPenn reported Monday.

The low incarceration rate is due to a slew of reform programs that have prevented low-level, non-violent offenders from receiving jail time, likely affecting many drug offenders.

The city expects to implement six more programs within the year to further decrease its prison populations. The 12 programs already in place cut down on pre-trial prison time, but the DEA shows the reforms may only be adding to the city’s drug problem. The availability of heroin, cocaine, and prescription drugs all increased in Philadelphia during 2015, according to the agency’s 2016 Drug Threat Assessment.

Officials are also looking to implement a risk-assessment tool to determine the the likelihood of charged suspects skipping their trial date if they are released beforehand.

New Jersey implemented a similar assessment tool in January intended to lessen the strain on state prisons. The tool was created to determine if a defendant is likely to either not appear for trial or to commit another crime, releasing offenders who are deemed not-likely.

In May, the tool released an illegal immigrant, Douglas Baudriz-Diaz, who had been arrested in a New Jersey town for burglary. Baudriz-Diaz then went on to burgle two more homes the same week before being arrested again.

Advocates continue to argue that the reforms will have a positive effect on crime, however. Julie Wertheimer, the city’s chief of staff for criminal justice said the programs help reduce recidivism and promote “fairness,” according to BillyPenn.

“This is about increasing safety and increasing fairness in the system,” Wertheimer said. “Everything we’re doing is because we believe by making this a more fair system, it actually increases public safety across the city.”

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