By Gregory Weber, Philly Broadcaster
Decarcerate Pa, a coalition of organizations dedicated to stopping mass incarceration, staged a rally yesterday to protest the building of new prisons in Pennsylvania. About 100 protesters chanted and held signs urging the state to “build communities, not prisons.” They gathered along the curbs near City Hall around the evening rush hour. Commuters honked at the activists as a speaker on a bullhorn attacked plans to build a new Graterford Prison in Montgomery County.
The rally was staged outside the offices of Hill International, the company chosen to manage construction of the new facility. According to the group’s website, the project will cost an estimated $400 million. That sum is only part of approximately $685 million being spent on prisons by the state.
At the rally and on their website, Decarcerate Pa objects to the current prison system as being not only ineffective at controlling crime, but actually harmful to communities. They argue that it creates repeat offenders and helps to destroy family life. They would replace jail time with treatment programs, community service and other, similar options. According to the coalition, these do a better jobs of addressing root causes of criminal behavior such as drug addiction and poverty.
The state government’s decision to build a new Graterford Prison comes even as it cuts funding to schools around the state, including those in Philadelphia. It also coincides with a rise in teen violence through Philadelphia. The current protest is thus part of a larger dialogue on how Pennsylvania handles issues of crime and juvenile delinquency. Groups such as Decarcerate Pa feel that educate would help to eliminate criminal behavior before it starts. Others argue that without the threat of stiff punishments there would be a rise in the crime rate. It would appear that under the current administration it is the latter attitude that holds sway.