Philadelphia looks to build a new prison

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration has been talking about demolishing one of the city’s prisons since his first term.

That hasn’t happened, and now, the second-term administration is talking about building another prison. But it won’t be just any prison, said Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison.

“It will have, and be able to do, quite a number of different things,” he said. 

The city is planning to construct a “mixed-use prison facility” that will both hold inmates and provide them with some type of services. It is meant to replace the House of Correction, an almost 90-year-old city prison.

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Gillison said the new prison will incorporate modern theories about criminal justice, as opposed to the “old-fashioned jail-’em-and-forget-’em” mentality.

But he said it is too early to provide details, such as what kind of services it will provide, where it will be, when it will open, and how much it will cost.

Under Nutter’s proposed five-year budget plan, the city would spend $2.3 million on land acquisition for the new prison next fiscal year. City Council has until June 30 to approve or change his budget.

This plan comes in the midst of a recent spike in Philadelphia’s inmate population. In 2011, the population dropped below 7,700 inmates. On Thursday, the city was holding 8,897 inmates, including those in other counties.

Overcrowded prisons spur suit against city

Philadelphia’s prisons were built to hold only 6,500 inmates. Civil-rights attorney David Rudovsky and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, an advocacy group for poor inmates, are suing the city over its crowded prison conditions.

Gillison was asked if building another prison was contradictory to the administration’s goal of eventually closing one.

“It’s not at all incongruent,” he replied. “I’d like to invest proper resources from the public to provide the kind of facilities that will help us, in time, lessen the population.”

Erecting another prison is a step in the wrong direction, said Angus Love, executive director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project.

“Many times, prisons have been constructed with the idea of removing old prisons. And most of the time, it never happens,” he said. “The citizens of Philadelphia are already overburdened with taxes, and of all the choices that the city makes to spend the money that they have, this is a very poor choice.”

Philadelphia’s Holmesburg Prison was officially closed in 1995. Since then, the city has used part of it to hold inmates during the intake process.

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