An interim report on the Philadelphia criminal justice system released by the PA Supreme Court indicates that procedural rule changes have resulted in dramatic improvements.

The report details the work of the First Judicial Reform Initiative, a reform effort that stems from a series of articles published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in December, 2009.

“The articles were initially met with some skepticism but we also knew it was something we had to look into,” said Amy Kelchner, a spokesperson for the Court. “And we decided to go after the hard numbers rather than rely on just anecdotal information and we did find a lot of room for improvement.”

A statement from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) said the Inquirer articles examined data concerning the outcomes of four categories of violent felonies (homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) committed in Philadelphia during 2006 and 2007. The series pointed out high withdrawal and dismissal rates, low conviction rates, evidence of witness intimidation and witness fear, a massive fugitive problem and a bail system in disarray.

The AOPC statement also said that more cases are being resolved on their merits earlier in the process; fewer cases are being dismissed; minor cases are being diverted into special programs; bail collections are up substantially; and accurate data regarding case activity is now available.

For example, the percentage of felony cases that proceed at the first listing of the preliminary hearing rose from 13% to 27% following the implementation of the reforms. Similarly, the percentage of felony cases dismissed at preliminary hearings declined from 16% to 9%. Bail collections increased from $40,000 to $1.6 million in the first year after the First Judicial District took over the functions of the Clerk of Quarter Sessions.