For Immediate Release: December 11, 2013
Harrisburg, PA: As new details emerge about inaccuracies in the data used to justify new prison construction, community groups are increasing pressure on lawmakers to hold the Department of Corrections accountable. Today, the grassroots campaign Decarcerate PA paid a visit to members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to demand an investigation into the two prisons under construction in Montgomery County. The prisons, called SCI Phoenix I & II, come with a $400 million price tag, making them the second most expensive construction project in the state’s history.
For over a year, DOC Secretary John Wetzel has claimed that the decision to build the prisons was based on an internal cost-benefit study. The DOC refused to release the study or any related documents until compelled to do so by the Right-to-Know process. “Once we finally got the documents, two things became clear” said Andy Spiers of the Decarcerate PA Policy Committee, “first, there was no evidence that an independent, data driven study was ever actually conducted. And second, the cost-savings promised by the DOC are not backed up even by their own numbers.”
Activists point to the fact that, according to the data provided by the Department of Corrections, SCI Phoenix I and II will actually cost $3.6 million more to operate than the current SCI Graterford, the facility that SCI Phoenix will allegedly replace. The DOC's claims of cost-savings also rely on the premise that SCI Greensburg, an older prison in Westmoreland County, will be closed when SCI Phoenix I & II are opened. However, the DOC already closed SCI Greensburg at the beginning of 2013, shortly after the opening of another new prison in Centre County. This means that any financial benefits from closing Greensburg have already been realized, whether or not the Phoenix project is completed.
Decarcerate PA traveled to the capitol to meet with legislators and specifically to demand that Senate Judiciary Chair Stewart Greenleaf and House Judiciary Chair Ron Marsico hold hearings to conduct a thorough investigation of the DOC and halt the construction while this investigation is taking place. “The documents the Department has turned over to us indicate that they misled the Legislature and the public. Even legislators who are not interested in prison issues should be appalled at the inaccuracies and lack of transparency in the DOC” said Decarcerate PA’s Waleed Shahid.
This is not the first time Decarcerate PA has gone public with their critiques of Pennsylvania's prison policies. Last year, the group staged a civil disobedience action at the prison construction site, and this spring they marched from Philadelphia to Harrisburg to protest increased funding for prisons while schools across the state are being shuttered.
“Harrisburg hasn’t seen the last of us,” said Anne Re of Decarcerate PA. “The Corbett administration has slashed billions from education and social services, but has no problem spending millions more to keep people locked in cages. The fact that the Department of Corrections lied in order to justify it adds insult to injury. Our elected officials must take immediate action. The future of our state, and their jobs, depends on it.”
Decarcerate PA is a grassroots campaign working to end mass incarceration in Pennsylvania. We demand that PA stop building prisons, reduce the prison population, and reinvest money in our communities. For a more in depth analysis of the documents from the Department of Corrections and to view the documents themselves, visit http://decarceratepa.info/study