VIDEO: press conference announcing March for a People's Budget - Stop Prison Expansion Now!

Decarcerate PA and a diverse coalition of supporting organizations announced today that they will march over a hundred miles from Philadelphia to Harrisburg to demand a budget that invests in Pennsylvania’s communities and not in unnecessary, unwanted prison construction. In order to emphasize their call for smarter funding priorities, speakers “broke ground” on a better Pennsylvania.

It’s outrageous that over $400 million is being poured into building new prisons while twenty-three schools in Philadelphia are being closed due to budget cuts. Legislators and Governor Corbett are hurting students across the state with these broken funding priorities” said Azeem Hill of the Philadelphia Student Union.

The march will begin with a kick-off rally in Love Park at noon on Saturday, May 25th. The marchers are calling on the General Assembly to refuse to pass a budget with increases in corrections spending while money is being spent on constructing new prisons. “The planned new prisons will add almost 1000 beds to the current system, even though the Department of Corrections claims that the prison population is starting to go down,” said Joshua Glenn of Decarcerate PA. In particular, the group is calling attention to the controversial $400 million prison construction project on the grounds of SCI Graterford in Montgomery County. “Construction is still in its early stages,” said Mr. Glenn. “It’s not too late to cancel this wasteful project.”

Joined by City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, DreamActivist PA, and other groups, organizers announced the march at a press conference in the Municipal Services Plaza while wearing construction hats and holding shovels, describing the event as a “ground-breaking ceremony” for building a better Pennsylvania. The marchers will arrive at the State Capitol in Harrisburg on June 3rd, just as the General Assembly reconvenes to discuss the budget.

“The annual cost to incarcerate an individual is about $32,000, while the annual cost to educate a child is about $11,000,” said Councilman Johnson. “Studies show that the more education a person receives, the less likely he or she is to engage in crime. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that there is far greater value in investing in education over incarceration.”

Along the ten-day march route, Decarcerate PA will hold rallies and community events in towns and cities as they pass through. On May 26th, the marchers will join other community organizations in Norristown for a rally against immigrant detention and deportation. “We need to invest in education and social services—not in a culture of criminalization and fear,” explained Jessica Hyejin Lee of Dream Activist PA, an undocumented-led group fighting to build the power of immigrants. Additional stops will be made in Haverford, Collegeville, Reading, Lebanon, and Hershey, among other communities. There will also be a companion march and Rally in Pittsburgh on May 26th.  Decarcerate PA is calling on people from all over Philadelphia to join them in symbolically walking the first mile from Love Park to the Art Museum on May 25th, even if they cannot make the whole trek.

Sara Mullen, Associate Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania pointed out that by underfunding public defenders’ offices, the state has failed to ensure the rights of the accused to adequate legal representation. “Why are we pouring money into endless prison construction, but not into protecting basic constitutional rights?” she asked. “Those are backward priorities.”

The marchers are asking legislators to refuse to grant the Department of Corrections its requested $68 million increase in next year’s budget—which will push the DOC budget over $2 billion for the first time in the state’s history—as long as construction on unnecessary new prisons continues. They are calling on legislators to invest instead in schools, social services, healthcare and building a better Pennsylvania.

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