PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The city of Philadelphia is working to reduce its prison population by a third over the next three years. But one of the facilities that houses inmates most likely to be released is unable to expand re-entry services to meet the new need.
Built in 1927, the House of Corrections has narrow corridors, antiquated pipes and repeated leaks, heating and maintenance problems- causing portions of the facility- to be shut down.
“Services that were run out of that area, now have to be re-assigned,” says Blanche Carney, commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Prisons. She led reporters and photographers on a tour of the tight quarters for medical and mental health services, education classrooms, visiting rooms and along the cell block.
“When you’re losing heat in a facility this size- that’s a major challenge,” she says, referring to a maintenance problem last that forced HOC to shut down an entire cell block and move inmates to another housing area.
Recently, leaky pipes and the need to paint over crumbling infrastructure forced another shut down, this time of the portion of the prison where inmates received substance abuse services.
“Services that were run out of that area, now have to be re-assigned,” says Carney.
She says scheduling is always a problem since most services are provided during a daytime shift. Then classrooms where GED, computer literacy, parenting classes and other re-entry services are offered have limited space.
“We currently have programs that are available at other facilities on the campus that we cannot provide here,” says Carney.
With a max capacity of 1700, few than 1100 inmates live at the HOC. The facility is minimum to medium security, housing only low level offenders facing minor charges like retail thefts or child support violations with sentences that are 23 months or less.
“We want to make sure that they have access to re-entry offerings and services,” she says, “because they can transition back into society sooner than in our other facilities– but we are limited in our ability to expand our services because of space.”
Earlier this year, Philadelphia received a 3.4 million dollar McArthur grant to reduce its prison population by a third in three years. Carney says inmates in the HOC will be transitioning back into society during that period, so they want to ensure they have access to literacy, work training and other services to make that transition successful.
“We’re looking at doing a facility assessment to see where we can expand,” she says, but denied that her department is seeking funding.