Philly Lawmakers Put Off Vote to Spend $7M on Land for New Prison

It's a victory for anti-prison groups. But it might be short-lived.

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For the third time this year, Councilman Bobby Henon held a bill Thursday that would allow the city to spend more than $7 million to buy land in Northeast Philadelphia that could be used to replace an aging prison.

We say “could” because Mayor Michael Nutter insists that he is not planning on building a prison anytime soon, and that it will be up to the next mayor to decide what to do with the land. That last bit is true. But Nutter’s prisons commissioner, Louis Giorla, has said repeatedly that there are, in fact, plans to construct a replacement prison for the House of Correction. So, yeah.

Eric Horvath, a spokesman for Henon, said he did not call for Council to vote on the legislation because he “wants more time to speak with other members.”

Community members, education advocates and anti-prison activists have taken to City Hall several times in the past few months to protest the bill. They argue that the city should reduce the local prison population and spend its limited resources on Philly’s cash-strapped schools.

“Philadelphia holds far more people in jail on cash bail than comparable cities like New York and Washington D.C., and our court system moves at an excruciatingly slow pace,” said Ashley Henderson, a member of the anti-prison group Decarcerate PA, in a statement. “Nearly 80 percent of people held in Philadelphia’s jails are simply waiting for their cases to be brought to trial. We are criminalizing people for being poor.”

Local journalists, too, have spoken out against a new jail. But prison officials say that the House of Correction, which was built in the 1870s, needs to be replaced for the well-being of prisoners and employees alike. The facility lacks AC and several basic safety mechanisms.

The fact that Henon again held the bill amid criticism is a victory for his opponents. But the win could be short-lived. Council could vote on the proposal next Thursday, the last legislative session of the season.