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Justice & Advocacy - an affiliate website of The Lehigh Conference of Churches

The Heart of Justice: Decarcerate Pennsylvania

Decarcerate PA is a growing state-wide movement focused on challenging the public policies that have caused explosive growth of Pennsylvania’s prison population over the past 30 years. A Decarcerate organizing team from Philadelphia led one of the workshops at our Nov. 2013 “Heart of Justice” event, and they returned to Allentown on March 1 and April 5 to begin organizing a Lehigh Valley chapter.

Decarcerate’s work is guided by a three-fold platform which has been endorsed by more than 100 Pennsylvania organizations:

  1. Build no more new prisons;
  2. Reduce the number of people in prison; and
  3. Begin community reinvestment – instead of expanding prisons, invest more in schools, stable housing, jobs, job training, healthcare, food access, and other programs that address the root causes of violence.

Decarcerate, which began about three years ago, is an entirely volunteer organization with shared leadership; there are no paid staff. Their campaign employs many tactics to “end mass incarceration,” including press releases, demonstrations and marches, street theater, creative direct action, monthly letter-writing to folks in prisons, media interviews, organizational meetings in many locations, and educational events.

In November 2012, they set up a “school classroom” at Graterford SCI, blocking the prison construction site with banners reading “Prison Construction Cancelled,” illustrating the fact that funds spent on prison construction are stolen from public schools and other human services.

They organized a ten-day “March for a People’s Budget, Not a Prison Budget” late last spring in which members of the group and its allied organizations marched 113 miles from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, collecting images along the way showing what people in diverse Pennsylvania communities want to see instead of more investment in prisons.

In September, they followed up the march with “100 Days Instead of Prisons” social media campaign, calling on legislators to cancel the $400 million prison construction underway in Montgomery County and make 2014 a year of no new prisons in Pennsylvania. Over the course of 100 days, culminating December 31, 2013, Decarcerate PA posted one photo each day on Facebook, Twitter, tumblr and Instagram. Each image was created by a different Pennsylvania resident and portrays what they would invest in “instead of prisons.”

On November 6, Decarcerate members traveled to Mechanicsburg to deliver a giant electrical plug to DOC (PA Department of Corrections) Secretary John Wetzel, and demand that he “pull the plug” on prison expansion in Pennsylvania. In June, Secretary Wetzel had told the Philadelphia Inquirer that his “first instinct was to pull the plug” on the prison construction; but Wetzel evidently changed his mind because prison construction continues.

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