July 2, 2012
“Picture This!” campaign illustrates costs of prison expansion
Governor Corbett just signed off on a controversial budget that he says will put the state on a “diet.” But when it comes to prisons, the governor continues to loosen Pennsylvania’s belt.
The 2012-2013 budget completely eliminates General Assistance and fails to restore last year’s $840 million cut to public education, yet continues to fund the $685 million plan to build two new prisons in Montgomery County and a third in Centre County. These new prisons—along with the expansions of nine existing facilities—add over 5,000 beds to the state prison system even as Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel has set a goal of reducing the prison population by approximately 5,000 people over the next five years.
“Pennsylvania does not need another prison,” said Hakim Ali of Decarcerate PA, a statewide coalition opposing prison construction and supporting policies that reduce the number of people in prison. “Other states are finding ways to reduce their prison populations and close prisons. It’s time Pennsylvania caught up to the rest of the country.”
Over the past year, Decarcerate PA and a coalition of over 75 organizations across the state have repeatedly demanded that Governor Corbett and Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel cancel this massive expansion of Pennsylvania’s prison system and invest the savings into education and other services that Pennsylvanians need.
In response to the Governor’s controversial budget proposal, Decarcerate PA has also launched a social media campaign called “Picture This! The Real Cost of Prison Expansion.” Every day in June, Decarcerate PA has released a photo of a “prison bed” and banner in front of a place in Pennsylvania that has been negatively impacted by budget cuts. The banners illustrate what each new prison bed costs in terms of general assistance, teacher lay-offs, and shuttered classrooms.
The entire moveable exhibit has been photographed in front of foreclosed homes, health clinics, state parks, and schools and universities across the state. Circulating online, the photos have been seen by tens of thousands of people on Facebook, Twitter and at decarceratepa.tumblr.com.
“What message are elected officials sending our young people when they cut our children’s basic right to a quality public education while funneling millions into prisons?” asked Anissa Weinraub, a teacher at West Philadelphia High School and a member of the Teacher Action Group. “Is the governor just preparing our youth for a future of imprisonment?”
According to Picture This!, the cost of each new prison bed could keep 40 people on General Assistance; the cost of 100 prison beds could prevent 185 teachers from being laid off, and the cost of 1,000 prison beds could save 365 classrooms from closure. The elimination of General Assistance leaves 68,000 of Pennsylvanians without temporary cash assistance. Despite last minute changes to Corbett’s proposed budget that prevented further reductions in education funding, the final budget maintains last year’s cuts to basic and higher education. These cuts led the state to shed more than 14,000 education jobs in the last year.
“Instead of supporting our children to develop and thrive, Governor Corbett's budget sacrifices our children's futures before they're even given a chance. When we should be preparing them for graduation and positive contributions to our society, Corbett is putting them on a track to fill prison beds” said Darlene Brooks, a member of Action United and a caretaker for her 8-year-old niece. “My niece is a bright girl, but her school already has so few resources and so little support for her to learn. How is she supposed to succeed in the world?”
Decarcerate PA is a coalition seeking an end to mass incarceration and an expansion of mechanisms that maintain whole, healthy communities. We believe that imprisonment exacerbates the problems we face. Decarecerate PA seeks 1.) an immediate and lasting moratorium on all new prison construction, 2.) policies that shrink the prison system, and 3.) reinvestment in our communities. Such steps are necessary to secure socially responsible, personally secure, and economically viable communities in our state.