Grassroots Coalition Responds to Withdrawal of Jail Expansion Bill, Calls for Systemic Change to Transform Unjust System

Anti prison press conference at City Hall

June 18, 2015 -Today, City Council has postponed a proposed move to buy land for a new jail. As a coalition of grassroots organizations who mobilized to stop this expansion of the Philadelphia Prison System (PPS), we are glad that at this current juncture City Council has started listening to the resounding message of people across Philadelphia. However, we do not see this decision as the solution to transforming Philadelphia’s deeply troubled jail system.

For years, Philadelphia communities have urged our City government to decrease the number of people held in Philadelphia County jails and invest in our severely underfunded school system. We have called on City government to take a stand against mass incarceration, and show people that they choose high quality classrooms and reforms that will keep people out of prison over the expansion of a broken, racist, unjust criminal legal system. Over the last several months, our coalition, #No215Jail, specifically urged City Council members not to invest our tax dollars into purchasing property intended to house a new jail that would further incarcerate our communities.

Philadelphia does not need a new jail. We believe the House of Correction can—and should—be closed. Philadelphia needs real, systemic bail reform. We need an end to stop and frisk and other racist police practices that disproportionately channel poor people and people of color into the city's jails. We need real transparency and accountability to end rampant overcharging in the District Attorney’s office and eliminate the unjust pressure on defendants to accept plea bargains that are not in their best interest and often lead to collateral consequences that will impact their lives forever. We need to address overcrowding and other human rights abuses in the Philadelphia Prison System by bringing people home and allowing them to be with their families and continue their lives while they await trial, not by building a new jail. We need investment and systemic commitment to alternatives to incarceration that address harm, violence, and loss in our communities in ways that will lead to real transformation and healing.

We are committed to this fight because we recognize the national context of what a new jail in Philadelphia will mean for our communities. Roughly 1 out of every 100 adults in the US is behind bars. The US represents only 5 percent of the world’s population but incarcerates a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Over 65 million people in the US have criminal records, people of color represent 30 percent of our country’s population but account for 60 percent of those who are imprisoned, and 1 in 5 people in Philadelphia are formerly incarcerated. We are living in an era of mass incarceration crisis. While we know that today’s victory is a small and temporary one, we will continue to fight against the unjust and unfair systems of punishment and removal that leave thousands of families, neighborhoods and communities torn apart.

As long as police continue to employ racist tactics that target people of color and poor people for search and arrest; prosecutors continue to stack up charges and force people to take plea bargains; and judges continue to let people languish months or even years in jail waiting for their cases to go to trial - we have not won yet. As long as more than 5000 Philadelphians remain locked up only because they cannot afford to post bail in a system designed to warehouse poor and working class people- - we have not won yet.

As long as our city continues to pour millions of dollars each year into a failed system of mass incarceration rather than into fully funded schools, affordable housing, high quality healthcare, comprehensive mental health and drug and alcohol services, jobs and job training, effective reentry support and the many other resources and supports that actually build and sustain safe communities - we have not won yet.

Given our clear stance and organizing as communities most impacted by incarceration, we expect that leadership from the #No215Jail Coalition will be included in the new Philadelphia Prison and Incarceration Reform Working Group that Councilman Henon and Councilwoman Blackwell are establishing. Transformation and change of unjust systems must be led by people and communities most directly targeted and impacted by those systems. We are the driving force of imagining and creating a new vision and path for systems that are rooted in fairness, dignity, and human rights.

On behalf of Decarcerate PA, Philadelphia Student Union, 1Love Movement, X-Offenders for Community Empowerment and the Human Rights Coalition