Philadelphia to shutter century-old jail by 2020

Listen 2:25
District Attorney Larry Krasner explains how fewer prosecutions mean a smaller prison population,  allowing the House of Corrections to be shut down by 2020. (Tom MacDonald, WHYY)

District Attorney Larry Krasner explains how fewer prosecutions mean a smaller prison population, allowing the House of Corrections to be shut down by 2020. (Tom MacDonald, WHYY)

Philadelphia officials have decided to shut one of the city’s jails within the next two years.

Nearly a century old, the House of Corrections on State Road has been in continuous operation since 1927.

City Councilman Bobby Henon applauded the move Wednesday.

“The inhumane conditions are certainly undeniable,” he said. “The bottom line is there shouldn’t be a human being in the House of Corrections.”

Calling it a milestone, Mayor Jim Kenney said closing the prison without plans for a replacement facility was made possible by the city’s efforts to cut back on the number of inmates.

“Its closure is possible because the prison population has decreased 32 percent since the administration has taken office,” Kenney said.

The drop can be attributed at least in part to a $3.5 million MacArthur Foundation grant targeted at reducing the population in city jails.

District Attorney Larry Krasner, who took office in January, said the city is taking steps every day to keep people on the streets and out of city custody.

“For example, not prosecuting possession of marijuana, for that small portion who were still being prosecuted for example,” he said. “Identifying 26 charges that are nonserious, where we would not see cash bail ordinarily. What we have seen from that is — since our bail policy went into effect — the number of people incarcerated in the county went from a six-person reduction per day to a 12-person reduction.”

Even though just 178 inmates remain in the House of Corrections, officials can’t close the facility quickly because each offender must be moved to the right jail or prison, depending on why they are serving time, according to Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney.

“You should not have someone incarcerated on retail theft with someone that is charged with murder,” Carney said.

The group 215 Bail Coalition has called the conditions in the House of Corrections “dismal and inhumane,” and member Reuben Jones said he believes the city can move more quickly.

“We don’t feel it needs to be maintained,” he said. “Once it’s closed, it’s a waste of taxpayer’s money.”

Carney said maintaining the facility is necessary to have a space available should the city’s prison population increase.

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

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.