Communities demand: Build schools, not prisons

For Immediate Release: August 17, 2011

Communities demand: Build schools, not prisons

Rally targets company managing Graterford construction

Philadelphia: People from dozens of community and neighborhood groups throughout Philadelphia will rally on Wednesday, August 17, at 5 p.m. at 15th and Chestnut streets against the state’s proposed plan to expand Pennsylvania’s sprawling prison system. The rally will take place at the Philadelphia office of Hill International. A multinational corporation, Hill has been chosen to manage the construction of two new prisons on the grounds of SCI Graterford in Montgomery County.

“States around the country are shrinking their prison systems and saving money without sacrificing public safety,” said Hakim Ali, a spokesperson for Decarcerate PA, the coalition planning the rally. “Pennsylvania ought to follow their lead rather than continue the failed policies of the past.”

Governor Corbett’s recently passed controversial budget slashed education funding by almost $1 billion, according to the Education Law Center. In the same budget, however, the governor increased the Department of Corrections budget by 11%, or $186 million. That money is in addition to the $685 million already set aside to build three new state prisons: Benner Township at the current SCI Rockview site, and two new constructions to replace the current Graterford prison.

The Graterford expansion will double the current size of the prison at a projected cost of $400 million. In addition to adding more beds, the proposed new prison will include a new death row and a unit for women prisoners.

Hill International is slated to receive about $14 million from the state to manage the project, according to its contracts with the Pennsylvania Office of General Services.  Companies are currently submitting bids to build the prison itself.

Opponents of the planned prison expansions say that Pennsylvania should follow the national trend of reforming the strict sentencing guidelines that keep nonviolent offenders locked up for lengthy periods of time.  States such as New Jersey, New York, Kansas and Michigan have already done so, downsizing their prison population. Activists point to Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-12) and his recently proposed Criminal Justice Reform Act, SB100. This proposed legislation would enhance re-entry efforts that support families and neighborhoods, implement alternative sentencing practices that have a proven record of success, and transition prisoners with non-violent convictions and short-term sentences into community corrections programs.

“In this time of recession we need to be building communities—not prisons,” said Dana Barnett of the Teacher Action Group, one of several organizations supporting the Decarcerate PA campaign. “Our money should be spent on education and other programs that help Pennsylvanians succeed.”

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Decarcerate PA is a coalition of organizations and individuals seeking an end to mass incarceration and the harms it brings our many communities. Decarcerate PA seeks mechanisms to establish and maintain whole, healthy communities and believes that imprisonment exacerbates the problems we face. Decarecerate PA therefore seeks an immediate and lasting moratorium on all new prisons: no new prisons, no new county or city jails, no prison expansions, no new beds in county jails, no immigrant detention facilities, no private prisons. Such steps are necessary to secure socially responsible, personally secure, and economically viable communities in our state.