NE Philly car caravan protests poor conditions in city jails

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Inside Philadelphia prisons, he said, people can’t clean their cells because they don’t get cleaning supplies and they don’t get face masks to protect against COVID-19. Thompson also said guards were using pepper spray “in no time.”

A sign taped to a car in the Northeast Philadelphia trailer protesting conditions inside Philadelphia prisons. (Emily Rizzo / WHY)

The Philadelphia Department of Prisons did not respond to a request for comment from WHYY News ahead of publication.

A report of PennLive estimated that there were 11 deaths in Philadelphia prisons in 2020. Overall, Pennsylvania prisons had the highest death rate in at least 20 years in 2020. Of those deaths, nearly 40% were due to suicide. A report 2014 by the American Civil Liberties Union said solitary confinement leads to increased suicide rates and the dramatic “deterioration” of people with serious mental illness.

Organizers of Saturday’s protest said suicide rates for people in solitary confinement were at least double those of community members incarcerated in the general prison population. Recidivism rates are also higher for those who have spent time in solitary confinement, the organizer said.

Andre Simms is an organizer with Caring, Not Controlling and the Youth Arts and Empowerment Program. He was incarcerated at the age of 17 for eight years.

He said people have been waiting in Philadelphia jails for months just for their first hearings.

“The people of State Road are currently considering pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit because they are tired of suffering on State Road,” Simms said.

Maxine Morris, Luna Jung and Andre Simms organize with Care, not Control and the Youth Art Self-Empowerment Program.  Jung said young people should be nurtured rather than punished and forever defined by their mistakes.
Maxine Morris, Luna Jung and Andre Simms organize with Care, not Control and the Youth Art Self-Empowerment Program. Jung said young people should be nurtured rather than punished and forever defined by their mistakes. (Emily Rizzo / WHY)

Protest organizers said the key to ending deteriorating conditions is to stop filling prisons altogether and invest in alternative and rehabilitative, rather than punitive, initiatives.

“We demand that we bring resources to the root causes of the problem and not just weapons,” Simms said. “The drugs, the violence, these are all consequences of something bigger that we haven’t addressed.”

Thompson said some steps along the way include creating a civilian oversight board that can hold prison officials accountable, reduce bail fees and keep people out of jail for minor probation infractions.

Cars line up for the caravan on Saturday afternoon near the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility
Cars line up for the caravan on Saturday afternoon near the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. (Emily Rizzo / WHY)

Organizers of Care, Not Control are also fighting to end the practice known as “direct filing,” in which a prosecutor files charges against a minor directly in adult criminal court.

It’s about “replacing punishment and punishment with caution,” Simms said.

A sign taped to one of the cars protesting the conditions inside Philadelphia prisons
A sign taped to one of the cars protested conditions inside Philadelphia prisons. (Emily Rizzo / WHY)
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