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$2,800 Verdict As Jury Finds Pennsylvania Jail Discriminated Against Women Prisoners in Reentry Center

Pennsylvania state court jury found on November 19, 2019 that the Berks County Jail violated the constitutional rights of women by denying them the same access to reentry privileges as men. The jury awarded $2,800 in compensatory damages to the lead plaintiff in the case, Theresa Victory. The court also entered an injunction ordering an end to the discriminatory exclusion of women prisoners.

The class, represented by the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP) and Dechert LLP, challenged Berks County’s practice of housing incarcerated men in the lowest security “trusty” status in the Community Reentry Center. Women in the same status were imprisoned in cells at the Berks County Jail.

The Community Reentry Center provided greater access to privileges, more freedom of movement, better visitation conditions, and more access to furloughs. The Center had also been assisting men with reentry for nine years, resulting in decreased recidivism.

The goal of the suit was simple. “Our clients simply wanted the same access to furloughs as the men — to see their children, care for their loved ones, and prepare for their return home,” said PILP attorney Matthew W. Feldman.

Rather than provide women with equal opportunities for reentry services, Berks County Commissioners on the eve of the November 12, 2019 trial filed a notice with the court that stated it had moved all the men out of the Community Reentry Center. That had no impact on the trial, but it was a sad development.

“Closing the Community Reentry Center is an enormous setback for reentry services to all incarcerated people,” said Su Ming Yeh, deputy director of PILP. “We are disappointed that Berks County would rather empty the Reentry Center than provide robust reentry services equally for both men and women that would assist their successful return to society. See: Victory v. Berks County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Pa.), Case No. 18-5170.

On March 2, 2020, the plaintiffs filed a motion seeking $541,765.11 in attorney fees and costs for the successful litigation. They were represented by the law firm of Dechert LLP and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. As this issue goes to press the court has not ruled on the fee petition yet. 

 

Related legal case

Victory v. Berks County