Archive: April, 2012
By Dennis Bartlett
The Philadelphia courts issued an order this month noting that more than 30 percent of the city’s criminal defendants fail to appear in court. Furthermore, it noted that with 61,000 outstanding bench warrants, authorities can’t even serve all the fugitives, let alone apprehend them. Hence the courts have decided to explore new approaches, mainly by opening the door wider to commercial bail, which has been largely banned from the city.
In a sense, the long debate over whether bail agents should return to Philadelphia has been settled in the affirmative by this order. That’s good news for the city.
Even though Philadelphia’s bail system is broken, it’s anything but clear that inviting bounty hunters back to town will solve the city’s fugitive problem.
That’s why top court officials need to be held to their pledge to closely monitor the moves being made to open the door wider to commercial bail-bond writers, who are boasting of better-than-average court-appearance rates for their clients.
Faced with no-show-for-trial rates that mean as many as one in three criminal defendants skip their court dates, the city’s courts, at the direction of the state Supreme Court, earlier this month lowered the bonding requirements for private bail firms.
By Harold Jackson
Growing up in Birmingham, Ala., I never thought I would do what I did last week, which is stay at the Tutwiler Hotel while I was in town for a retirement party.
Back then it wasn’t so much that the Tutwiler was segregated, which it was when I was a child in the 1950s and ’60s, as it was that any hotel would be too costly for my family. Then, too, we didn’t own a car or take vacations, so who needed a hotel?
As bad as President Obama likely felt upon hearing that Secret Service agents sent to Colombia to prepare for his arrival were involved in a sex scandal, former President Bill Clinton may have been just as dismayed.
The incident has allowed comics and cartoonists to joke that had Clinton been president, he might have joined the hotel party in which Secret Service agents, and perhaps U.S. military personnel, allegedly cavorted with prostitutes. No, the “bimbo eruptions” will never be forgotten.
But this is no joking matter.
The case before the Supreme Court challenging life-without-parole sentences for teens is really about hope. Does the Constitution somehow bar the courts from depriving all hope of release from prison for young offenders who, in fact, are not fully responsible for their actions, no matter how heinous?
Judging from recent arguments, the court could be leaning toward yet another landmark decision that would bolster the core tenet of the juvenile-justice system — namely, that youthful offenders deserve a second chance.
A ruling that bans no-parole sentences for juveniles would be the next logical step for the court, in keeping with earlier decisions prohibiting teen executions and barring life-without-parole sentences when a crime does not involve a killing.
Pennsylvania is giving its new voter-suppression program a test run in Tuesday’s primary. Voters will get a feel for the sort of intimidation the state has in store for them in the fall.
When they show up at the polls Tuesday, voters must produce a photo ID. But for this one Election Day only, if the ID doesn’t pass muster, voters will still be allowed to vote. In November, however, they’re out of luck. That’s when the voter-ID enforcers can use their authoritarian powers to keep non-driving city dwellers, the elderly, young, poor, and anyone else without an acceptable ID from voting.
To make matters worse, the state keeps changing its definition of an acceptable ID. This week, it expired driver's licenses are acceptable. That would cover the elderly whose licenses have lapsed. But many non-driving students would still be in trouble.
Dick Clark made it cool to be an adult.
Unlike other disc jockeys and entertainment personalities who tried to dress and talk like teenagers to gain their acceptance, Clark on TV was always as perfectly groomed and attired as any businessman, which is what he was.
He didn’t talk down to young people; he talked to them — about the music they preferred, the dances they performed, and sometimes whatever else was on their minds.
Acres of rotting industrial properties sit with impunity on the city’s lists of building-code violators and tax deadbeats. They languish in the haze of uncomfortable realities urbanites have learned to live with until something horrific happens.
It happened on April 9, when fire Lt. Robert Neary and firefighter Daniel Sweeney died in a blaze at the long-idled Thomas W. Buck Hosiery factory. Afterward, there were the all-too-common reports that the building had outstanding code violations and its out-of-town owners were behind on their taxes.
A grand jury was announced Tuesday to look into the fire, but it must do more than remind Philadelphians that irresponsible property owners are sucking the life out of this city. In the bluntest of terms, the jury’s report should lay out the missteps leading up to the tragic loss of life and place unrelenting pressure on all parties to change Philadelphia’s shameful distinction as having the worst tax-collection rate among big cities.