Nutter Administration backs down in Court funding fight

Mayor Nutter and Common Pleas Court President Judge Pam Dembe faced off over funding for the electronic monitoring of inmates released from city prisons.

Mayor Nutter's administration ran afoul of the First Judicial District recently, trying to prevent the courts from spending $4.5 million on new electronic monitoring bracelets for released city prison inmates.  But Common Pleas Court President Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe waved a pretty hefty fiscal stick in the direction of Nutter's staff -- a threat to withhold the money collected by the city's Prothonotary's Office.

And now everybody is playing nice together.

"I can’t have the city threatening to withhold allocated monies," Dembe said of the money City Council approved this year. "We are not a city agency. We are not subject to their control. So any time we get in those kinds of situations, you can expect me to be fairly tough about that."

The First Judicial District made the pitch for the additional funding during April 26 budget testimony, noting that every dollar invested in the court system tends to return $4 to the city.  Reducing the prison population by putting released inmates on electronic monitoring is one way to save serious money.

Dembe said she is confident the details on how to add 800 new bracelets will be worked out with the city.  Those details include determining who should be released and where they will stay while awaiting the resolution of their criminal cases.

"Without housing, we’re just really stuck there," Dembe said of the inmates. "There’s no way we could put 800 people out more or less immediately. We’re all going to have to put our heads together and strategize on them."

Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Nutter, said the administration is eager to work with the courts.

"The city and the courts are partners working together to manage fiscal challenges with the long-term goal of reducing the prison population, among many other goals that we have working together," McDonald said. "There will be an agreed upon way forward to deal with our various fiscal issues. And electronic monitoring will certainly be a proposal leading the way."