Protesters question need for two new state prisons

A state trooper stops protesters Tuesday from walking toward the entrance to Graterford Prison, where the group had planned a demonstration against two correctional facilities being built on the site. Associated Press
A state trooper stops protesters Tuesday from walking toward the entrance to Graterford Prison, where the group had planned a demonstration against two correctional facilities being built on the site. Associated Press
Posted: July 19, 2012

LAST WEEK, Gov. Corbett signed a prison-reform bill that aims to keep nonviolent drug offenders out of state prisons, but for one group in the state, true reform means refraining from building any more prisons.

Decarcerate PA, which seeks to reduce the prison population and advocates for a moratorium on new prison facilities, spent Tuesday afternoon protesting two correctional facilities under construction in Skippack, Montgomery County.

Thomas Ditcher of Decarcerate PA said the group protested adding the Phoenix I and II prisons on the site of the 83-year-old Graterford Prison that stands there.

"We want a moratorium placed on prison-building in the state, starting with these [projects]," Ditcher said. "We're here to demand that Governor Corbett halts building [of new prisons]."

Hakim Ali of Decarcerate PA also said the group fundamentally opposes new prisons, adding that "there are too many penitentiaries in the state of Pennsylvania to begin with."

Although the new facilities will house 800 additional beds for inmates and will cost the state $400 million to build, Susan McNaughton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, says the prisons will be more cost-effective long-term. The facilities are being built, McNaughton said, because Graterford would cost too much to renovate.

McNaughton added that John Wetzel, secretary of the Department of Corrections, met with activists from Decarcerate PA recently and said that "everything is on the table" in terms of ideas for prison reform.

The new facilities will house up to 4,100 inmates, the Corbett administration said when the project was announced last year. McNaughton said the project is expected to be finished in 2014, when inmates will be moved to the Phoenix facilities. Graterford will be "mothballed" and used to relieve temporary overcrowding, she said.

The law signed by Corbett on July 5 aims to get nonviolent criminals out of state prisons by instead providing them with local drug treatment and close supervision.

Contact Sean Carlin at 215-854-5926, carlins@phillynews.com or on Twitter @SeanCarlin84.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|