Inky Series Said to Cause Prison Overcrowding

Phawker writer Jeff Deeney reports on conditions at Philadelphia’s House of Corrections, a jail built to hold a maximum capacity of 1,200 prisoners. On a recent day, the population was 1,650 prisoners—only 150 of whome had been convicted of a crime.

Cramming this many prisoners in such a small space creates conditions that are incredibly unsafe and unsanitary. Three prisoners are held in tiny cells built to hold two. Three men packed in a space the size of a walk-in closet also use a toilet and sink in the same space. With so many people creating unsafe conditions the facility is on “lock down” almost daily which means prisoners also eat in the same space they use the bathroom in and have no time out for physical activity. The place stunk and most prisoners laid listlessly in their narrow cots, thin blankets pulled over their heads. Inmates told me it was worse over the summer; HoC has no air conditioning and apparently there were extensive water outages so bathing and laundry didn’t happen much.

Other Philadelphia correctional facilities are similarly overcrowded, Deeney said. He points the finger of blame at a Philadelphia Inquirer investigative series in 2009 that pointed out that many people charged with offenses in the city had never had their day in court—for reasons ranging from the court system’s inefficencies to evasions on the part of the people charged.

The courts responded to The Inquirer series, crafting a series of reforms that were covered in favorable terms, allowing the panel that crafted them to call their own efforts in a later story “remarkable” while having them refer back to his own original series, praising it as a “scathing indictment” of their undeniable dysfunction. The paper has basically done a series of victory laps that laud their own coverage and the efforts of court reformers they’re covering.

In fact the panel’s recommendations have improved very little and have created mass human suffering inside the prison system that violates constitutional law forbidding “cruel and unusual” punishment. It’s Our Money wrote about prison conditions recently on, sourcing Rudovsky, but the Inquirer itself has yet to follow up with any coverage that connects the current conditions in prison to the series that caused and subsequently reinforced them. The Inquirer needs to own this outcome.

Deeney concludes: “It would be nice to see the newspapers start driving the conversation in this direction while taking ownership of a massive problem they helped create. ” [Phawker]