Attn: News Desk
For Immediate Release
Mechanicsburg, PA - State leaders responsible for Pennsylvania’s surging prison expansion costs are meeting with growing resistance. About twenty protesters appeared unannounced at the Department of Corrections headquarters in Mechanicsburg today with a gigantic orange electrical plug. Members of Decarcerate PA, a grassroots coalition working to end mass incarceration in Pennsylvania, called for an immediate halt to the $400 million prison construction project in Montgomery County, saying it was time for Corrections Secretary John Wetzel to “pull the plug” on this expensive plan.
The protesters hoped to short-circuit the new prisons, which would be the second most expensive state construction project in Pennsylvania’s history. If completed, the new prisons would house 4100 people. “Current projections from the Department of Corrections actually indicate that the prison population is expected to drop over the next five years,” pointed out Thomas Dichter, a member of Decarcerate PA. “It doesn’t make any sense to press forward with expanding the prison system.”
The state’s decision to build the prisons, called Phoenix I and II, has sparked a battery of questions. In June, Secretary Wetzel told the Philadelphia Inquirer that his “first instinct was to pull the plug” on the prison construction (“Work Underway to Build Graterford Prison Replacement,” 6/2/2013). Today’s protesters insist that Wetzel’s initial impulse was correct. “Even if the old Graterford facility were closed,” explained Dichter, “the data the DOC used to justify the construction – which Secretary Wetzel fought tooth & nail to keep us from obtaining - does not demonstrate any savings for the state.”
The demonstrators want the Corbett administration held accountable for their decision to continue construction. “There is a shocking lack of transparency in the Department of Corrections’ decision-making process,” said Decarcerate PA member Hakim Ali. “Secretary Wetzel has really left the public in the dark about why he’s squandering $400 million on prisons the Pennsylvania doesn’t want, doesn’t need, and can’t afford.”
The protestors amplified their message by inviting Secretary Wetzel out of the building to pull a gigantic orange plug out of an oversized outlet. When Mr. Wetzel declined to participate, the protesters symbolically pulled the plug on the prison construction themselves. In addition, two members of the group ventured inside the building to deliver a list of ten demands. “Cancelling the prison expansion is essential,” said Nikki Grant, “but there are many other things that the Department of Corrections could do today to help reduce the prison population.” The group’s demands included ending long-term solitary confinement, providing adequate mental health and medical services, and streamlining the parole process.
The issue of prison construction is fast becoming a lightening rod for criticism of the state budget. “We think that the mounting pressure will force Secretary Wetzel and Governor Corbett to make a switch in their budgeting priorities,” said Hanako Franz of the Teacher Action Group, noting the massive cuts to education and social services made under the Corbett administration. “The people of Pennsylvania have the power to put a stop to prison expansion and demand real investment in our schools and communities instead.”
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.