For the First Time, Philly’s Prison System Will Be Led By a Woman

Mayor Kenney is appointing Blanche Carney, a 21-year veteran of the jail system, to be the city's prison commissioner.


Mayor Jim Kenney just named his new prison commissioner: Blanche Carney, a 21-year veteran of the Philadelphia Prison System. She will be the first woman to head the city’s prison system.

Carney has been the prisons’ Deputy Commissioner of Restorative and Transitional Services since January 2015. Before then, she served as the department’s Human Services Program Administrator and also oversaw a program that provided treatment to inmates with alcohol and drug problems.

A large majority of Kenney’s appointments have hailed from the Philadelphia region. Last year, Kenney said that he would search nationally for candidates to lead the city’s prisons system. “It’s extremely important to look outside this city and consider what that external perspective could bring,” Kenney said at the time. “The search process is going well.”

What came of that search, and why did Kenney end up choosing someone from Philly? Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for Kenney, says, “We did conduct a national search, and Blanche Carney was the best choice of all possible candidates, local and national.”

One of Kenney’s campaign promises was to improve the outcomes of ex-convicts. Whether he achieves that goal will depend on many different governmental entities, including the First Judicial District and the District Attorney’s office. But the prison system, obviously, plays a huge role: It determines the level of education and treatment inmates receive when they’re behind bars, as well as which individuals are placed in solitary confinement. All of those things can have an impact on how well an ex-con readjusts to the outside world.

Tom Innes, an attorney in the Philadelphia public defender association, says Carney is the right person to manage the prison system. He notes that she has a background in providing treatment to prisoners, which he says matches Kenney’s focus on inmate rehabilitation. “She’s fabulous,” says Innes. “She came all the way up through the system on the programming and treatment side, which I’m sure is why Mayor Kenney appointed her. She is smart and people like her and she gets along with everyone, and she doesn’t take any guff.”

Kenney will formally announce the appointment of Carney, as well as new Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel, on Tuesday.

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