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Philadelphia Fined for Degrading City Prisons

A Philadelphia common pleas court panel fined the city $2.2 million for "degrading" conditions in the city's prisons.

The judgment, passed down by a three judge panel in early October, 1996, was accompanied by a contempt of court citation for the city. The fine and citation stem from an ongoing prison rights lawsuit known as Jackson v. Hendrick.

The court noted that halfhearted measures or sham claims of compliance do not address the problems or conditions within the [city's] prisons. The judges said that city prisons were 'cruel, disgusting and degrading," and lacked adequate guards, laundry and job-training facilities. Also cited were poor plumbing, rat and insect infestation and faulty heating. The $2.2 million fine is slated to go into a social services fund for the city's prisoners.

Deputy city solicitor James B. Jordan, who represents the city in the case, said the judgment was based on "third-rate issues," such as the speed with which social workers respond to kites from prisoners. Philadelphia mayor Edward G. Rendell promised to fight the decision, "and if we lose the appeal, they would have to put me in prison before I'd pay the taxpayers' money for this."

The city has been fined a total of $5 million since 1990 for its defiance of court orders to improve conditions in the city's four main prisons. The judges noted that a previous panel had used nearly the same stark language to describe the prisons when it first put the city on legal notice in 1972, implying that the city has done little or nothing to comply with court orders to improve prison conditions in more than two decades. Surely the mayor wouldn't have to experience imprisonment in such a hell hole for as long as twenty years before deciding that court-ordered improvements should be made.

Corrections Digest

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