Prison-change group protests Graterford work; 7 arrested

November 20, 2012|By Jessica Parks, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

Seven protesters were arrested Monday morning for trespassing on the construction site at Graterford Prison.

The state is building two facilities to replace the Graterford complex, which Corrections Department officials say is too old and expensive to operate and maintain.

The protesters, from the group Decarcerate PA, want the state to reduce the inmate population and spend money on schools instead of prisons.

In a statement, the department dismissed the criticism: "The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is responsibly reducing its inmate population. The fact that Decarcerate PA refuses to acknowledge significant progress the criminal justice system had made under Gov. Corbett is surprising."

The protesters, all Philadelphia residents, were released after being charged with trespassing, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct, and criminal conspiracy. Later in the day, the organization held a mock tribunal on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The new $400 million prison facilities - named SCI Phoenix East and West - will accommodate 4,100 inmates of various types, in a capital case unit, separate medium- and maximum-security sectors, and an isolated transitional facility for female inmates.

The existing Skippack facility is equipped to handle 3,361 inmates, but last month was 9.3 percent over capacity, according to department statistics. The state prison system overall was 5.5 percent over capacity in October. 

Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117 or