Prisons

Jacqueline Larma / AP

Inmates’ rights groups are trying to turn their opposition to recent state prison policies into a campaign issue for Governor Tom Wolf.

The new rules were handed down last month on the heels of a statewide prison lockdown, over concerns drugs were making their way inside state-run facilities.

Books must now be purchased though the Department of Corrections, and gifts and donations of books have been temporarily halted.

Marc Levy / AP

After a 12-day lockdown at all state prisons, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections says it’s resuming normal operations.

Prisons Say Changes After Staff Sickened Costing About $15M

Sep 6, 2018
Marc Levy / AP

The head of Pennsylvania's prison system said Thursday it is costing the state about $15 million to implement new procedures to combat drug smuggling believed to have caused dozens of staff to become sick in recent weeks.

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said the 25 prisons are on track to resume normal operations next week.

About 50 guards and other employees have reported symptoms since the start of August that are thought to have been caused by exposure to a clear, odorless substance known as synthetic marijuana, or K-2.

Jaqueline Larma / AP, file

Pennsylvania’s 25 state prisons are in their seventh day of lockdown over concerns that powerful drugs are being sent into the facilities and getting staff sick.

Marc Levy / AP

As Pennsylvania’s statewide prison lockdown enters its third day, officers and staff are busy with intense training sessions on how to safely handle the powerful, synthetic drugs that keep finding their way inside via mail and other measures.

State Prisons Make Changes After Staff Mysteriously Sickened

Aug 23, 2018
Marc Levy / AP

Pennsylvania's state prison system is tightening security and revamping procedures after 18 staff members were treated at hospitals for exposure to a yet-unidentified substance at three prisons earlier this month.

Prisons Are Looking To Tablets And Tech To Inspire Orderliness Among Inmates

Jul 25, 2018
Charles Krupa / AP

Allowing inmates to stare at computer tablet screens for hours each day may be just the ticket for creating calm, orderly cellblocks, prison officials say.

But tablets, growing in popularity in prisons nationwide, also can help inmates advance their education, connect with family and prepare them for life in the technology-saturated outside world, officials say.

Marc Levy / AP

A GOP-controlled state Senate committee is making slow, careful progress at changing Pennsylvania’s justice system to focus on reforming the convicted and reducing prison populations.

The effort is led by the GOP Committee Chair Stewart Greenleaf, who is trying to pass as many justice overhaul proposals as possible before his retirement at the end of the year.

Greenleaf, of Bucks County, often acknowledges that his desire to change the system came later in his long career, after years of taking a tough-on-crime approach.

Marc Levy / AP

Republican Gov. Phil Scott's administration said it's taking steps to remove Vermont inmates from a public prison in Pennsylvania where two inmates have died since October.

Marc Levy / AP

 

UPDATED: 6:08 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018

The number of inmates in Pennsylvania's prison system is continuing to decline, with the population last year falling by about 860 prisoners to fewer than 48,500.

The Wolf administration said Monday the 2017 drop represents the fourth straight year that the total inmate population has gone down. Administration officials call last year's decrease the largest on record.

Pennsylvania ended last year with about 3,300 fewer inmates than five years earlier.

Pennsylvania Grapples With New Sentences For Juvenile Lifers

Jul 31, 2017
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections / AP

On a long-ago summer night, 16-year-old Giovanni Reid accepted a neighbor's invitation to an International House of Pancakes restaurant as thanks for watching the man's infant son.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

The commonwealth is embarking on a long-term plan to reduce the numbers of mentally ill inmates in county prisons.

Pittsburgh Prison Already Shrinking As Closing Gets Underway

Feb 20, 2017
Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

The process of closing a massive state prison complex in Pittsburgh has made progress in the weeks since it was announced, including the transfer of some inmates to other facilities and a decision by the Corrections Department about where it will relocate the prison's medical and therapeutic programs.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) announced Thursday that State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh will shut down by June 30, 2017.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

It’s been three weeks since the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) announced five prisons were being considered for closure: State Correctional Institutions Pittsburgh and Mercer in the western part of the state, and Waymart, Retreat, and Frackville in the east.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

It's possible that Bret Grote gets more mail from state prison inmates than anyone else in Pittsburgh.

As the co-founder and legal director of the Abolitionist Law Center, he says he is “dedicated to the abolition of race- and class-based mass incarceration.”

The non-profit law firm provides legal services for people who are incarcerated.

Corrections Officials Tell Senators Prisons Can Close Safely

Jan 23, 2017
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

Pennsylvania corrections officials are telling state senators they can close two prisons without jeopardizing the security of staff, inmates or the public.

Monday's joint Senate committee hearing comes four days before the Department of Corrections is to announce which two prisons it'll close. The hearing in the state Capitol is packed with corrections officers and their supporters.

The two prisons are to be chosen from a list of five prisons: Frackville, Mercer, Pittsburgh, Retreat and Waymart.

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

In a surprise announcement last week, the state said it would close two of its prisons.

And while lawmakers and local leaders have begun discussing how the closures could affect their economies, civil rights groups have turned their attention to the conditions inside the prisons.

The state still hasn’t decided which two prisons will close, but the changes will push several thousand inmates into other facilities across the state.

Andy Hoover, with the American Civil Liberties Union, said it’s hard to know exactly how to interpret this.

Federal Bureau of Prisons

 

Federal prosecutors say an inmate's killing of a guard at a federal prison in Pennsylvania was a calculated slaying that saw the suspect pause to chew a piece of gum he took from the dying man's pocket.

Federal prosecutors detailed the attack in court documents filed Monday, arguing that a jury should see surveillance video showing the 9-minute attack, and 22-minute aftermath in which guard Eric Williams lay dying before other guards arrived.

Reed Saxon / AP

 

Local courts that jail poor defendants because they can't afford to pay bail are unlawfully discriminating against the poor, federal attorneys say in a legal brief in a Georgia lawsuit.

The U.S. Justice Department says such policies are unconstitutional.

The federal brief was filed Thursday with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the lawsuit of a north Georgia man who spent six days in jail in the city of Calhoun because he couldn't afford $160 bail following his arrest on a misdemeanor charge.

Tony Webster / flickr

  Corrections officers at federal prisons are not permitted to carry weapons in cell blocks. But that would change if  President Obama signs the Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act. 

The legislation would allow guards in medium, high and maximum security federal prisons, including five in Pennsylvania, to carry pepper spray to subdue inmates when necessary. 

The killing of a guard at the prison in Waymart, Pa. led to the proposed change in policy.

Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections

 

A new study designed to reduce crime and the size of Pennsylvania's prison population is about to get underway.

Gov. Tom Wolf and other government officials on Thursday announced Pennsylvania will be getting data crunching help and policy recommendations from the study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Council of State Governments' Justice Center and the U.S. Justice Department.

Topics will include how bail is set, the value of pretrial diversion and alternatives to incarceration.

SCI Albion / cor.pa.gov

The state Senate is lining up a plan to restore state prison funding vetoed by Governor Tom Wolf late last year, in an attempt to clean up some of the fallout from the state’s messy budget impasse, now in its seventh month.

The bill would bring back more than $900 million to the state corrections system. Wolf’s partial veto eliminated those funds, as well as billions more for healthcare, agriculture and other items, in a bid to compel lawmakers to strike a budget deal.

Prison Release Rarely An Option For Dying State Inmates

Jun 14, 2015
Photo courtesy of Peggy Garrity / Via PublicSource

Leon Jesse James was supposed to die in prison.

As a convicted murderer, Pennsylvania gave him no possibility of parole, meaning he’d spend nearly his entire adult life incarcerated for a 1971 fatal shooting in Philadelphia.

Barely 18 at the time, he was angry and immature. Over four decades, his family watched him grow up and then grow old in prisons across Pennsylvania. The anger faded, but its consequences remained, leaving little hope that he’d ever return home.

Uncommon Compassion: Dying Offenders Seldom Released in Federal Prison System

Feb 17, 2015
Jeffrey Benzing / PublicSource

Linda Share fought for years to get her father home before he died.

Benjamin Share had been away for eight years. His kidneys were failing. He had congestive heart failure. His foot, an unnatural burgundy color, was swollen, and he had weeping sores that wouldn’t heal.

“The sores got worse and worse,” Linda said, describing her father’s deterioration in a nursing facility chosen by the prison. “I would drive to Manor Care and take home urine-stained and blood-stained clothing, his undergarments, and wash them for my daddy.”

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is a federal law seeking to prevent, detect and respond to incidents of sexual harassment in prisons. The State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh is the first in Pennsylvania to meet the 43 requirements for compliance.

“They range from training and education of staff and inmates to how we handle investigations to how we handle data collection,” said Jennifer Feicht, PREA coordinator with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

Some of the measures in place include:

Flickr user Martin

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ State Intermediate Punishment, or SIP, program aims to help non-violent offenders get needed treatment with the ultimate goal of ensuring they don’t become repeat offenders.

The latest report on SIP found the program does seem to be working.

“The recidivism rate for the SIP offenders is 10 percentage points lower than a comparable rate of a group of inmates who do not go through SIP, who go through traditional sentencing,” said DOC spokeswoman Susan McNaughton.

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel has been named to a national task force that will examine the criminal justice system, and most importantly, the issue of overcrowding in federal prisons.

Wetzel will begin work in January with eight other corrections officials on the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections. The blue ribbon task force will undertake a comprehensive analysis of how to avert the continued growth of the federal prison population.  

Life Means Death For Thousands Of PA Prisoners

Oct 21, 2014
Illustration by Anita Dufalla / PublicSource

Death in prison is not rare.

In Pennsylvania, one in 10 inmates is sentenced to life in prison. Because state law gives them no possibility of parole, nearly all of more than 5,300 inmates serving life terms will eventually die inside prison walls.

“They have no choice but to age and die in place,” said Julia Hall, a criminal justice professor and gerontologist at Drexel University.

Meet etta cetera, the Woman Who Married Pittsburgh

Aug 29, 2014
Tom Jefferson / performanceheartist.wordpress.com


"Today I promise, in order to form a more loving union, I will fight for justice, I will work toward peace, I will mobilize in defense of the commons, I will promote the general welfare of all life, and weave the braids of liberation to my movement for the future generations " - etta cetera

When 90.5 WESA Weekend Host Liz Reid found out she'd be filling in as host of Essential Pittsburgh, she took to her Facebook page and asked followers who they'd like to hear interviewed on the show.

Overwhelmingly, people wanted to hear a conversation with etta cetera, a prison justice activist and performance "heartist" who married the city of Pittsburgh earlier this summer. Etta joins us to talk about why she married the city and how it ties in with her advocacy and prison justice work.

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