Following suicides in crowded Philly prisons, advocates for inmates consider legal action

As Philadelphia’s prison population continues to increase, advocates for the crowded inmates are considering their next step.

Civil rights attorney David Rudovsky says the inmate population has gone up to about 8,800, in some cases forcing prison officials to assign three inmates per cell.

“Last week we received information that there were three suicides and one attempted suicide, which are extraordinarily high numbers,” Rudovsky said Tuesday. “I’ve never seen anything like that in a prison system in one week.”

Recent high temperatures have exacerbated the suittuation, he said.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“Two of the main prisons in the prison complex don’t have air conditioning,” Rudovsky said. “It’s not unusual for the temperatures in those buildings to get above 100 degrees in very crowded conditions.”

Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison says the blame belongs squarely with the imates, saying there could be 800 fewer people in jail if they followed the rules.”People need to stop with carrying guns on the street and they wouldn’t have to get high bail,” he said Tuesday. “Those are some of the numbers that have come up. And if you report to jail on time, you wouldn’t get contempt and have to serve additional time for bench warrant court.”

In the past, suits filed on behalf of inmates have spurred federal court oversight of the prisons and the release some offenders who couldn’t make bail and were being held in pretrial detention.

Rudovsky says advocates are weighing their options.

“We have litigation that’s pending in federal court that we agreed to hold in abeyance while the city made efforts to reduce the population,” he said. “But we have the option of going back to the court to reopen the case if conditions worsen.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal