[Rich Gardner attended the event on
Friday and filed the following report:]
Yes, the DecarceratePA program has only been around for just a year, but was able to sign up in excess of 70 organizations who supported that nights' celebration and the goals of DecarceratePA in general. The goal is “Build Communities, Not Prisons!” Six activists gathered together a year ago and jointly decided that Governor Corbett's plan to spend $685 million to expand several prisons and construct a few new ones was a really bad idea. There are many better uses that Pennsylvanians could put that money towards, especially as education in our state is taking a $500 million hit at the same time. Presumably, that means we're spending less to educate our youth in order to pay for some increased prison capacity.
We had the head of the American Civil
Liberties Union – Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) speak. Very fortunately,
ACLU-PA will be fully behind efforts to decarcerate in PA because
that's his personal priority and well, he runs that organization. He
felt “Overincarceration has reached epidemic proportions.” He
pointed out the many problems that over-imprisonment of citizens
causes the larger community and that reacting to low-impact crimes
and misdemeanors by putting the offenders in jail is really a bad
overreaction that takes people needlessly out of the community and
puts them into places where they can no longer contribute.
Does it help anybody to keep filling the prisons? Another speaker told us that he explained to a Councilperson how privately-run prisons reap enormous profits from having on their premises, essentially, slave labor. The Councilperson was unaware of this, meaning that in general, private citizens are probably unaware of that aspect of the problem as well. The list of organizations that provided speakers to the event were One Love Movement, And Justice For All, Hearts On A Wire, Community College of Philadelphia Teacher's Union, Reconstruction, Youth Arts and Self-Empowerment Project and the Campaign for Non-Violent Schools, in addition to the above-mentioned ACLU-PA.
Speakers pointed out that mass
incarceration is now the new Jim & Jane Crow and that the War on
Drugs is an essentially anti-poor and anti-black policy. Speakers
felt that our system as a whole is designed to divide us. A dispute
arose in one of my conversations with a fellow member of an anti-war
group when I referred to the “working and the middle classes.” He
was a Communist and insisted that all non-owners of the means of
production were working class and that there was no such group as the
middle class. Are the two terms nothing more than an effort to divide
the people or do they denote real and meaningful differences? Food
for thought, I think.
Pennsylvania has more juveniles serving life sentences than any other state. The PA Department of Corrections has approximately 16,000 employees and more than 51,000 inmates. One of our speakers pointed out that telephone companies provide on 47 cents for every dollar that's paid on phone calls back to the Department of Corrections. There's a lot of money floating around in the prison industry and no one has a clear idea of where all that money goes, but prisoners themselves say that spending millions to expanding prisons does nothing to help them. All the benefits from expanding prisons go elsewhere.
Senator Greenleaf is sponsoring Senate Bill 100 (PDF)
as Greenleaf's Senate
1153. DecarceratePA is looking for people to fill all kinds
of positions within the organization. There's plenty to do for
everybody! Please join the effort to reduce prisons in our state.
by Baba Bob Shipman, text by Amy Dalton & Rich Gardner