Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration says it wants to build a new prison to replace an outdated one that lacks such basics as air conditioning. But prisoners’ rights advocates are suspicious of the plan.
Nutter proposed setting aside nearly $5 million to acquire land for a potential new correctional facility in the six-year capital budget plan he unveiled Thursday.
Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla said the House of Correction, which holds about 1,500 inmates, was originally built in the 1870s.
“It’s not electronically wired so that we can operate the cell locks. There are deficiencies in the roofing and the windows,” he said. “It needs to be replaced. It will improve the conditions of confinement for inmates, it’ll improve the working conditions for our staff, and it’ll make the building more efficient. Right now, it’s an energy hog.”
Giorla said he didn’t know how much it would fully cost to build a new prison. He said the city spent about $60 million on the Riverside Correctional Facility, the last prison it constructed, in 2004.
Angus Love, executive director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, is an advocate for prisoners’ rights. He questioned whether the city would actually close the House of Correction if it erected a new facility.
“They say they’re going to build a new prison and close the old one, but Holmesburg Prison is still open. That was supposed to close years ago. To be fair, the section that they use was modernized, but they’re still using it,” he said. “If you build it, they will come.”
Giorla said the city also set aside money for land acquisition for a new prison in the capital budget that was approved last year, but officials did not finalize a deal with property owners.
Follow @HollyOtterbein on Twitter.