You are on page 1of 4


Decarcerate PA HoLds PeopLe’s Hearing on Prison EXpansion at State CapitoL
On February 12th, members of Decarcerate PA and our allies gathered at the State Capitol for a “People’s Hearing on Prison Expansion.” The protest coincided with the House Appropriations Hearing for the Department of Corrections, who, according to Corbett’s budget proposal, will receive an additional $78 million in the 2014-2015 budget. Despite threats of bad weather, three buses of people braved the journey from Philly to participate in the hearing. Members of the Philadelphia Student Union, Youth United for Change, Boat People SOS, the Human Rights Coalition, Fight For Lifers West, HRC-Fed Up, the CHARLES Foundation, The Center for Returning Citizens, The Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project, and Why Not Prosper all provided powerful testimony, as did the musician/activist G-Law and numerous people who are currently incarcerated. Many other groups participated by providing support and energy of countless other kinds and forms. “We’re sick of Governor Corbett giving money to prisons and not to schools,” said Marquise Warfield of Youth United for Change. “We have come to make a change and we won’t stop until it’s over. It’s time for the DOC to stop the lies. It’s time for the truth.” In particular, the “People’s Hearing on Prison Expansion” was organized to demand that legislators hold hearings to investigate the construction of the two new prisons at SCI Graterford. Numerous times, Secretary of Corrections



John Wetzel has stated that the DOC had conducted a “cost-benefit study” that determined that building the new prisons would be less costly than renovating the existing facility at Graterford. Based on DOC documents acquired under the state’s Right-toKnow law, Decarcerate PA has found that claim to be false and asserts that Secretary Wetzel and the DOC mislead legislators and the people of Pennsylvania.

“The DOC refused to provide us with the documents until they were faced with the threat of a lawsuit, and now we know why,” says Ashley Henderson, a member of Decarcerate PA. “The handful of spreadsheets they turned over to us show that no independent, data-driven study was ever conducted.” In general, the protest called for an end to the continued policies of mass incarceration and community divestment. Budget cuts to education, healthcare, food access and other necessities are severely damaging communities across the state and so are new prisons and the ‘tough on crime’ policies which incarcerate so many people for so long. As Johndi Harrell of The Center for Returning Citizens stated at the protest, “Investment should be made in the liberation of people, not their confinement.”

Decarcerate Radio Program
Now Broadcasting everY SaturdaY on West PhiLadeLphia’s LocaL FM diaL (WPEB 88.1)!
Since September of 2013, Decarcerate PA has been producing its own weekly radio show every Saturday (from 12-1 PM) which works to highlight prison issues and to showcase the organizing efforts of different grassroots and community groups both here in Pennsylvania and beyond. Following our weekly live broadcast, each of these programs is subsequently archived on the Decarcerate website, where anyone can then access and listen to them at any time in the future. In the past two months alone we’ve broadcast shows on such topics as: the collaboration of Philadelphia police with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in arrest and deportation proceedings; the two year anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s murder; the People’s Hearing Against Prison Expansion that took place in Harrisburg in February; the Dallas 6 Case (where six individuals are being charged for protesting conditions in solitary confinement at SCI Dallas and inhumane treatment in PA prisons generally); the struggles of incarcerated women across the nation; and the use of art and creative interventions in the anti-prison movement. In each and every show we also include a segment called “Voices from the Inside” which features the words and wisdom of currently incarcerated individuals who variously offer their insights, political commentary, ideas, poetry, personal narratives and more. We see these contributions as an absolutely critical component in our efforts to provide the public with a clearer picture of the scope, impact, and implications of mass incarceration. And we’re always looking for more content for this purpose! If you’re interested in writing something for possible use in this segment of the show, please send us your contributions! Shorter pieces (of 2 pgs and under) tend to work best. Send them to: Decarcerate PA, PO Box 40764, Philadelphia, PA 19107. Please include the note “Attn: DePA Radio” in the address.

The Decarcerate PA policy committee has been hard at work over the last few months. We have pressured legislators to investigate the Department of Correction’s lies about the justification for the $400 million-plus construction, worked to assess where each gubernatorial candidate stands on issues of mass incarceration, and have begun laying the groundwork for a potential campaign to abolish life without parole in Pennsylvania. In recent months, Decarcerate PA has been meeting with several other organizations - including Fight for Lifers and the Human Rights Coalition - to discuss the possibility of collaborating on a campaign to challenge life without parole in Pennsylvania. As we begin to develop a more clear vision of what we want to accomplish together, and what a unified campaign to end life without parole in Pennsylvania could look like, we hope to include as much input and involvement as possible from men and women doing this work on the inside. These meetings are still in the early stages, but the emerging coalition is assessing the most strategic ways to press for an end to life without parole. It is clear to us that a key first step towards challenging life without parole - or, we should say, death by incarceration - is educating people around the state about the issue and sharing the stories of the 5000-plus men and women serving LWOP in PA. As we develop this vision further, we will be sharing updates in future newsletters and hoping to solicit input, feedback and stories that help illuminate the full humanity of the thousands of people who Pennsylvania has sentenced to die in prison.

On February 4th, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett unveiled his proposed state budget for 2014-2015. Corbett’s proposal continues to pour more money into mass incarceration, increasing the DOC’s budget by $78 million. This would take the amount Pennsylvania is investing in its prison system over $2 billion for the first time ever, and means that the state will spend $423 million more on prisons than on higher education. This increase does not include the $685 million the state has spent in capital funds over the past three years to build three new prisons and expand nine existing facilities. Despite the record-high corrections spending, Corbett failed to even mention the 51,000+ people behind bars during his budget address. While the numbers from the Department of Corrections continue to predict a decrease in the prison population over the next several years, the decrease is much less than originally anticipated during PA’s “Justice Reinvestment Initiative” that resulted in the passage of the Criminal Justice Reform Act. Originally the reforms were projected to reduce the prison population by 3000, but now the budget documents predict a decrease of only 620 people. This is in part due to the elimination of the prerelease program, a last minute addition to the bill that Decarcerate PA strongly opposed. While Corbett’s election-year budget avoided some of the draconian cuts to public education and social services of previous years, he failed to increase the basic education subsidy. In Philadelphia alone, the School District has 7000 fewer staff than they did in 2009, and has lost about $300 million in state funding since 2011.


Pitch-blackness. In the center, a twinkling dot, growing bigger, or coming closer; flickering wilder now; a flame, yes; a crackling campfire. Glowing ashes rising up, swirling like fire flies, flying higher everywhere into the blackness, becoming countless twinkling stars. I’m under a starlit sky, sitting Indian-style by a campfire. The silhouettes of endless pine trees surround me. I hear sounds: crickets, frogs, owls, wind, whispering tree leaves, …howling wolves, …my heartbeat …pounding. And a familiar voice: “Kempis, in five words, say something about your situation.” I spin around, turning my head in every direction, scanning the landscape. But my view is besieged by monstrous concrete walls and towers all around me. I swivel back around… on my metal desk stool to face the campfire… that is now my desk lamp. The stars are gone; the sounds are that of jingling, not like bells but more like… keys… and footsteps. “Say something about your sentence to life without parole, in five words.” “Five words?” “Yes, five words.”

Every issue of our newsletter we feature one of the badass organizations that works with Decarcerate PA. So far over 85 organizations have signed our platform from large non-profits to street level social justice warriors - check out who’s with us at !


The Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project (YASP) is a youth-led organization that empowers young people - who are or have been incarcerated in adult jails and prisons - through a combination of artistic expression, political education, and leadership development. YASP carries out this mission by providing space for incarcerated young people to express their voices creatively, building platforms to share those voices with the world at large, and helping young people develop as leaders and organizers of their communities both within and beyond the prison walls. YASP is building a youth-led movement to challenge Act 33, the 1996 amendment to Pennsylvania law that allows youth over 15 to be automatically tried in adult court for a variety of crimes. In January 2014, YASP released their second short film, “Stolen Dreams II: Breaking the Cycle of Youth Trauma, Violence and Imprisonment.” The 25-minute film explores the intersections of violence and incarceration in young people’s lives, and pushes audience members to think about whether locking young people in cages will make our communities safer. Featuring interviews with YASP members, poetry by young men and women in the Philadelphia jails, and stories of young people whose lives have been tragically cut short by violence, the film is truly a must-see for people everywhere. YASP will be screening the film on Friday, April 11, at Scribe Video Center (4212 Chestnut St). If you know anyone in the Philadelphia area who might be interested in seeing this powerful work, please help spread the word.


The Youth Art & SeLfempowerment ProJect

Jingling keys and footsteps getting louder. A full moon appears, unusually and disturbingly bright, blinding me. But hold up; that ain’t no moon… It streaks away as suddenly as it intruded. The afterglow fades with the jingling keys and footsteps. “Your sentence in five words,” the voice persisted. “Okay, that’s easy,” I said. “” - Kempis Songster, “Ghani”, SCI Graterford More information about YASP available at or by mail at: Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project 2231 N. Broad St, Suite 200 Philadelphia, PA 19132

HeLp us grow Decarcerate PA statewide!


Over the last six months, Decarcerate PA has been working to cultivate our relationships in communities across Pennsylvania so that we can build a truly statewide movement to end mass incarceration. We have been holding regular meetings and community teach-ins in Allentown, Reading and Harrisburg. If you have family or friends in any of those areas - or connections with local organizations or faith communities - please send us their contact information or ask them to be in touch with us and get involved. Together, county by county, we can decarcerate PA!

Invite Your famiLY and friends!
Decarcerate PA is an all-volunteer campaign and we are always looking for new people to get involved. If you have family or friends in the Philadelphia area, invite them to come to a meeting! Decarcerate PA has General Meetings at 6pm on the 4th Monday of every month at the Friends Center at 1501 Cherry Street in Philadelphia.

HeLp us ceLeBrate our 3 Year anniversarY!
On May 9th, Decarcerate PA will be holding a community event to celebrate our three year anniversary. We’ve done a lot in three years, and the input, ideas, and inspiration we have received from incarcerated men and women has been a big part of that work. At the event we will hang up photographs, signs, props, and banners from our various activities. We also want to hang up short statements and quotes from incarcerated Decarcerate PA supporters about your role in this movement and what Decarcerate PA means to you. So if you have words you want included in DPA’s 3 Year Anniversary Celebration, send them to us at PO Box 40764, Philadelphia, PA 19107 before May 2nd. Please also let us know if you want us to include your name or if you wish to remain anonymous when we are publically sharing these statements.

This quarterly newsletter is intended to be a tool of communication and information between Decarcerate PA members on the outside and people inside of Pennsylvania prisons. Decarcerate PA is a coalition of organi­ zations and individuals seeking an end to mass incarceration and the harms it brings our many communities. Decarcer­ ate PA seeks mechanisms to establish and maintain whole, healthy communities and believes


us is as large as it is necessary. With your help, we can put an end to mass incarceration. If you know others who would also like to receive this newsletter, please encourage them to write us at the address below. This newsletter is also available online at

that imprisonment exacer­ bates the problems we face. We there­ fore demand an immediate and lasting moratorium on all new prisons: no new prisons, no new county or city jails, no prison expansions, no new beds in county jails, no immigrant detention facilities, no private prisons. We also demand changes in policing, sentencing and legislation to reduce the prison population. We believe that public money should instead be spent on quality public schools, jobs and job training, community-based reentry services, health care and food access, drug and alcohol treatment programs, stable housing, restorative forms of justice and nonpunitive programs that address the root cause of violence in our communi­ ties. The task before

Box 40764 Philadelphia, PA 19107 (267) 217-3372