On February 12th, members of Decarcerate PA and our allies gathered at the State Capitol for a "People's Hearing on Prison Expansion." The protest coincided with the House Appropriations Hearing for the Department of Corrections, who, according to Corbett's budget proposal, will receive an additional $78 million in the 2014-2015 budget.
Despite threats of bad weather, three buses of people braved the journey from Philadelphia to participate in the hearing. Special thanks to Philadelphia Student Union, Youth United for Change, BPSOS, G-LAW, the Human Rights Coalition, Fight For Lifers West, HRC-Fed Up, the CHARLES Foundation, The Center for Returning Citizens, The Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project, Why Not Prosper, Larry Stephenson and Eddie Ramirez for their powerful testimony, and to all the organizations who co-sponsored this action (listed below).
You can watch some video highlights here:
Check out an audio reportback on Decarcerate PA Radio here: http://decarceratepa.info/radio/peoples-hearing-prison-expansion-audio-recap
And see some photos below (and more on our facebook)
Announced last week, the proposed budget would raise state funding for the Department of Corrections to over $2 billion a year for the first time while falling far short of restoring the millions that have been cut from education during his term. The DOC's $2 billion budget is in addition to the $400 million currently being spent to build new prisons. The protesters claim that the DOC lied about potential savings to justify the construction of these projects, and that the state is suffering as a result.
"We're sick of Governor Corbett giving money to prisons and not to schools," said Marquise Warfield of Youth United for Change. "We have come to make a change and we won't stop until it's over. It's time for the DOC to stop the lies. It's time for the truth."
In particular, the event's organizers are demanding that legislators hold hearings to investigate the construction of two new prisons on the grounds of SCI Graterford in Montgomery County. Numerous times, Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel has stated that the DOC had conducted a "cost-benefit study" that determined that building the new prisons would be less costly than renovating the existing facility at Graterford. Based on DOC documents acquired under the state's Right-to-Know law, Decarcerate PA is asserting that Secretary Wetzel and the DOC have been misleading legislators and all Pennsylvanians.
"The DOC refused to provide us with the documents until they were faced with the threat of a lawsuit, and now we know why," says Ashley Henderson, an attorney with Decarcerate PA. "The handful of spreadsheets they turned over to us show that no independent, data-driven study was ever conducted." Decarcerate PA says they have uncovered a multitude of inaccuracies and contradictions in the documents, which fail to show any of the alleged savings the DOC has used to justify the second most expensive construction project in state history. These documents are posted at http://decarceratepa.info/study.
"We've been calling for the legislature to hold public hearings and halt construction while the DOC's false claims are investigated," explained Owen Lyman-Schmidt of Decarcerate PA. "Since they have refused to do so, we're bringing the hearing to them. Lawmakers need to know how prison expansion harms people both inside and outside of prison."
Speakers from student groups, prisoners' rights activists, and immigration justice organizers were among the array of people giving testimony at the People's Hearing. "We don't need new prisons in Pennsylvania," said Rev. Kent Matthies, Minister at the Unitarian Society of Germantown. "To make our communities safer, we need to invest more wisely and in ways that keep people out of prison in the first place. This includes funding for housing, education, food security, and reentry employment services."
Decarcerate PA last visited the State Capitol en masse in June, after completing a 113-mile "March for a People's Budget, Not a Prison Budget." For the Peoples Hearing, however, they are chartering several buses for the journey and are joined by more than twenty-five allied organizations.
The People's Hearing is cosponsored by:
Philadelphia Student Union
Youth United for Change
The Center for Returning Citizens
Boat People SOS
Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project
Haverford College: Rethink Incarceration Group
University Community Collaborative of Philadelphia
Up Against the Law Legal Collective
Prison Health News
Philly Independent Media Center
National Lawyers Guild- Philadelphia Chapter
National Lawyers Guild-Temple Chapter
Philly Survivor Support Collective
Global Women's Strike
Payday Men's Network
Every Mother is a Working Mother Network
AIDS Policy Project
Human Rights Coalition
The CHARLES Foundation
Books through Bars
Teacher Action Group
Artists for Recovery
NAACP of PA
Fight for Philly
Aids Policy Project
Art for Justice
Point Breeze Organizing Committee
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers
Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools
ACLU of PA
African Redemption Church