Decarcerate PA, group demands at rally

philly.comPOSTED: Monday, June 3, 2013, 3:09 PM

By Megan Rogers

Activists calling for an end to prison construction arrived in Harrisburg Monday morning after a 100-mile march from Philadelphia to protest the state's $400 million project at the former State Correctional Institute at Graterford in Montgomery County.

The marchers, organized by Decarcerate PA, also oppose the state's Department of Corrections' roughly $60 million funding increase in the upcoming state budget - and aruged that those precious dollars should instead be poured into educating kids.

The Graterford renovation calls for two new prison complexes to replace the old prison, which will not be demolished.

Department of Corrections officials countered that the Graterford prison project was redesigned by the Corbett administration to reduce operation costs. But Decarcerate PA opposes the project because it will add about 1,000 beds to the prison, said Thomas Dichter, 27, of Philadelphia.

Instead of funding prison constructions, the state needs to invest in re-entry programs, Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, D-Philadelphia, argued at the rally. She spoke about the disproportionate number of  Pennsylvania prisoners from her district, who she said make up more than one-quarter of the state's prison population.

"Why is it that everybody comes from the inner city?" she said. "Why is it that everyone looks like me?"

Others at the rally spoke about the need to increase funding for education to prevent incarceration.

Robert Choice, 60, of Philadelphia has two children in the Philadelphia School District. He's seen a decrease in support staff at schools and has had to send his children to schools farther away because their local school closed.

"To cut people's schools down and send them to jail is a slap in the face," he said. "Education is more important than incarceration."