Historic Protest against Graterford Prison Expansion

Press Contact: 

Thomas Dichter (267-217-3372)

Civil Disobedience Marks Escalation of Decarcerate PA Campaign

For Immediate Release

Skippack, PA – Early this morning, demonstrators seeking a halt to Governor Corbett’s $685 million prison expansion plan carried out the first-ever civil disobedience protest at a prison construction site in Pennsylvania. Several members of Decarcerate PA, a coalition working to reduce the state’s massive prison population, gathered just before dawn by the construction site of two new prisons at SCI Graterford. Quickly assembling a large “little red schoolhouse” and mock-classroom in front of the site, a number of protesters used their bodies to block the driveway.

Protesters, chanting “build up the school house, tear down the jail house,” blocked the road for an hour. During that time, no construction vehicles were able to enter the construction site, stalling work on the expansion. Seven protesters remained seated at school desks that blocked the construction road, refusing orders to disperse, and were arrested by state police.

“It’s shocking to see Governor Corbett pushing forward with this costly expansion project while children are seeing their schools closed,” said Layne Mullett, a member of Decarcerate PA. “We’re sending a clear message to the Governor that his backward priorities for Pennsylvania are unacceptable—we need funding for education, not incarceration.” Protesters emphasized that the drastic situation called for strong measures. “We’re putting our bodies on the line to stop this destructive project,” said Erika Slaymaker. “Construction on these new prisons is just beginning, so it’s definitely not too late for Corbett to pull the funding.”

The two new prisons would house 4100 people, adding more than 800 beds to the state prison system. “You can’t possibly shrink the prison system while still building more prisons,” explained protester Sean Damon. “We need sensible policy changes that will reduce our bloated prison population. More prisons mean more prisoners and more communities missing their loved ones.”

This afternoon, Decarcerate PA will hold a public tribunal and press conference. At this tribunal, those most directly affected by Pennsylvania’s prison system will put the Governor on trial for advancing the policies that lead to mass incarceration in our state. Follow-up information and media about the morning’s action will also be available. The tribunal and press conference will take place at 4:00 pm in Philadelphia at the Municipal Services Plaza, 1401 JFK Boulevard. More information, images, and video from this morning’s demonstration can be found at: www.decarceratepa.info.

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Decarcerate PA is a coalition seeking an end to mass incarceration and the harms it brings our many communities. Decarcerate PA therefore seeks an immediate and lasting moratorium on all new prisons: no new prisons, no new county or city jails, no prison expansions, no new beds in county jails, no immigrant detention facilities, no private prisons.