By Betsey Piette
Published Aug 25, 2011 9:48 PM
Protesters gathered outside the Center City offices of Hill International, Inc. in Philadelphia Aug. 17 to demand funding for schools not prisons, and to tell Gov. Tom Corbett to stop building new prisons and Hill to stop profiting from prison construction.
Pennsylvania plans to spend $685 million to construct three new prisons and expand nine others. Two of the new prisons will include a death row. After cutting around $1 billion from education funding, Corbett increased the state’s corrections budget by nearly the same amount.
Organized by DecarceratePA, the early evening protest brought together a diverse number of community, anti-racism and social justice activists, along with people who either had family members in Pennsylvania prisons or were themselves former inmates.
Their message of “No new prisons” boldly displayed on signs and banners received positive support from passersby. A giant puppet depicting Corbett with arms flailing was surrounded by protesters with signs demanding money for social services not prisons. One sign read: “Prisons are concentration camps for the poor.”
The multinational corporation Hill International, Inc. stands to receive $14 million from the state to manage construction of two new prisons at Graterford. Hill International has global connections, having managed construction of the Chunnel between England and France, construction projects for the Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq, and a new security center for the Saudi Arabia Department of the Interior.
Gov. Corbett: ‘Need to nurture youth’
The growing capitalist economic crisis, which has fueled the expansion of prison populations across the U.S., is one factor behind the demand for new facilities. According to the Justice Department, from 1995 to 2005 the imprisoned population in the U.S. ballooned by more than 600,000.
The World Prison Population Briefing covering 218 countries, published in July 2011 by the International Centre for Prisons Studies, University of Essex in Britain, found that the U.S. remains the leading country with 2.29 million people in prison. It also has the highest prison population rate in the world: 743 per 100,000 people. The overall world prison population rate is 146 per 100,000. (Harm Reduction Internal, July 2011)
As state facilities reach their capacity, the private prison industry has mushroomed, taking advantage not only of overcrowding in government facilities, but the recent mass incarceration of undocumented immigrants.
Growing opposition to massive spending on incarceration led to some sentencing policy changes and a decline in the number of state prisoners nationwide in 2009 for the first time in 38 years. Yet the prison population in Pennsylvania grew in 2009 by 4.3 percent — more than in any other state. “We’re telling Governor Corbett to get with the times,” said Decarcerate PA member Dan Bergen. (citypaper.net, Aug. 17)
One large banner laid out DecarceratePA’s program: “We propose that PA build communities not prisons — quality schools, jobs and job training, community-based re-entry, health care for all, stable housing, access to healthy food, and restorative forms of justice.”
Theresa Shoatz, daughter of political prisoner Russell Shoatz who has been in solitary confinement for 21 of the 39 years he’s been in prison, connected the struggle against prison construction with the recent “flash revolts” of oppressed youth in Philadelphia. “The prisons are taking up the money we need for our kids for education,” she said. “The city needs to nurture its youth.”