Seven Activists Face Trial for Historic Protest against Graterford Prison Expansion

Press Contact: 

Layne Mullett 267.217.3372

For Immediate Release, April 9, 2013

Schwenksville, PA – On Wednesday, April 10th, seven members of the grassroots campaign Decarcerate PA will go to court to face criminal charges for their participation in a civil disobedience at the construction site of two new prisons being built in Montgomery County. This protest was the first ever act of civil disobedience to block prison construction in Pennsylvania.

Early in the morning on November 19, seven protestors blocked the construction access road with school desks, notebooks, a “little red schoolhouse,” and their own bodies, halting construction of the $400 million prison expansion project for over an hour. The schoolhouse imagery highlighted the disparity between the governor’s decision to continue spending $685 million on prison construction statewide while slashing funding for education by over a billion dollars.

Protesters claim that this action was necessary to stop a greater injustice. “Prisons do not make our communities safer,” said Leana Cabral, of Decarcerate PA. “Prisons break up families and ruin people’s lives. Education, employment, housing and health care make communities safer, yet our governor prioritizes the construction of new prisons over these basic rights. I took part in this action because I believe powerful things happen when people come together and organize.”

The seven protestors each face three misdemeanor charges: Defiant Trespass, Failure of Disorderly Persons to Disperse upon Official Order, and Persistent Disorderly Conduct. They have all been released on bail. The charges will be heard in front of the Honorable Albert J. Augustine in Schwenksville’s Magisterial District Court at 11:00AM.

The courthouse is only a short drive from the prison construction site. If completed, the two new prisons (called Phoenix I and  Phoenix II) will house 4,100 people. While the Department of Corrections (DOC) has claimed that the new construction will replace the existing Graterford facility, DOC Secretary Wetzel refuses to make a public commitment to shuttering SCI Graterford. Decarcerate PA protesters believe that building new prisons shows a lack of commitment on the part of the governor to shrink the prison population.

“Every prison that’s been built in Pennsylvania has not just been filled but been overfilled,” said Sean Damon, one of the protestors facing charges at Wednesday’s hearing. “We know that if they build these prisons, they are just going to lock up more people and cause more damage to our already struggling state.”

“Decarcerate PA supports our members who were willing to put their bodies on the line to stop prison construction,” said Hakim Ali, of Decarcerate PA and Reconstruction Inc. “I believe that it will take more such actions by all those who understand that building more prisons is not the solution to addressing the issues in our communities and this society. We will need everyone to stand up against oppression and let our voices be heard.”

More information, images, and video from the civil disobedience can be found at: http://decarceratepa.info/content/protest.

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Decarcerate PA is a grassroots campaign working to end mass incarceration in Pennsylvania.  We demand that PA stop building prisons, reduce the prison population, and reinvest money in our communities.