Philadelphians Say No to Jail Expansion Plan

Press Contact: 

Decarcerate PA, 267-217-3372

DPA press releaseFor Immediate Release
Attn: News Desk

City Council urged to decrease jail population and invest in schools, not jail cells

PHILADELPHIA, PA (June 10, 2015) On Thursday, June 11, concerned community members will converge on City Hall to demand that City Council permanently shelve its plan to build a new county jail. They will call on Council to instead take steps to drastically decrease the city’s jail population and direct resources to the city’s severely underfunded school system.

“Philadelphia holds far more people in jail on cash bail than comparable cities like New York and Washington DC, and our court system moves at an excruciatingly slow pace,” said Ashley Henderson, a local attorney and member of Decarcerate PA. “Nearly 80% of people held in Philadelphia’s jails are simply waiting for their cases to be brought to trial. We are criminalizing people for being poor and warehousing people for years who haven’t been convicted of any crime.”

Wayne Jacobs, Executive Director of X-Offenders for Community Empowerment, concurs: “We have people with drug and mental health issues who are sitting in jail for six, seven months when they could be at a treatment facility getting treatment for their addiction or mental illness, which would cost the city far less money.”

The bill in question, Bill #150406, would authorize the city to spend $7.2 million to purchase land in Northeast Philadelphia to build a new jail. While Councilman Bobby Henon, the bill’s sponsor, claims the facility is intended to replace the aging House of Correction (HOC), opponents point out that the proposed facility would be double the size of HOC. They argue that the city can and should close HOC but should do this by decreasing the jail population and changing policies that lead to jail overcrowding in the first place rather than constructing a new facility.

“When I was 17, the police arrested me with no evidence, the District Attorney decided to try me as an adult, and I was sent to the House of Correction,” said Josh Glenn of Decarcerate PA. “I was held for a year and a half before the charges were dropped. I know firsthand that HOC is falling apart and the city must find a way to close it down. But building a massive new jail is not the way. Instead of building a new jail, City Council should figure out how to make sure no one goes through what I went through ever again. Right now, people go through it every day.”

Bill #150406 will be on Council’s agenda for final passage for the third time on Thursday. At two previous Council sessions, Councilman Henon has given in to public pressure and stalled the vote. A coalition of organizations--including Decarcerate PA, Philadelphia Student Union, the Human Rights Coalition, and X-Offenders for Community Empowerment--has been consistently pressuring Council, with hundreds of people calling in to demand that City Council make policy changes to decrease the jail population and invest resources in a fully funded school system, affordable housing, quality health care, living wage jobs, and comprehensive reentry services available to all Philadelphians.

“Why can we find money for jails, but we can’t find money for our schools? We need to end stop and frisk. We need to change the ways in which people are put in jail for minor offenses and stop finding ways to put people in prison,” said Ezenwa Ilabor, a junior at West Philadelphia High School and member of Philadelphia Student Union. “Instead of more jails, why not invest in children’s futures?”

The coalition opposing jail expansion is laying out a series of reforms that they believe the city should undertake to decrease the number of people held in the Philadelphia Prison System. They are calling on the city to reform the bail system so that people cannot be incarcerated simply because of their economic status, to end stop and frisk and other racist policies of police profiling that funnel young people of color into the jail system, to create independent oversight of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office to end overcharging and the excessive use of plea bargains, and to work with the court system to ensure that people do not sit for months--and often years--simply waiting to have their day in court.

“I imagine it takes a good deal of creativity, intelligence and talent to be elected to City Council,” reflected Karen Lee of the Human Rights Coalition and Decarcerate PA. “But it doesn’t take any intelligence, talent or creativity to vote hands down on a bill that expands the failed system of mass incarceration. The real challenge lies in finding ways to propose and promote much needed jobs and better schools, taking real steps to decarcerate Philadelphia, and creating the safe, healthy and sustainable communities that all Philadelphians deserve.”

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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