Philadelphia prison chief to leave job after string of prisoner deaths and escapes

Since 2016, Blanche Carney has overseen the city’s prisons and jails, which have been dealing with violence and the escape of four prisoners in a span of six months last year.

Blanche Carney

FILE - Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney in 2017. (Tom MacDonald, WHYY)

The chief of the Philadelphia Department of Prisons is leaving the job after a series of prisoner deaths and escapes.

Blanche Carney, who has overseen the city’s four prisons and jails since 2016, told staffers in a letter on Monday that her last day will be April 5, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. A department spokesperson confirmed Carney’s impending retirement.

The city’s lockups have been dealing with surging violence and the escape of four prisoners in a span of six months last year.

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The Pennsylvania Prison Society, a group that monitor’s the state’s prisons, interviewed nearly 50 prisoners in Philadelphia last year and issued a report that documented the “dangerous and degrading conditions in the Philadelphia prisons.” The report said that prisoners were confined to “rat-infested, caged areas, with insufficient food and insufficient health care for weeks or months at a time while their mental health deteriorates.” Ten prisoners died in 2022, according to the report.

The Philadelphia correctional officers union cast a unanimous “no confidence” vote in Carney last year, asserting the facilities were understaffed and in “chaos.”

Carney, the first woman to serve as prisons commissioner, acknowledged the problems in her letter to prisons staff, saying the pandemic had “caused a tremendous strain on correctional operations worldwide.”

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