Nutter’s Plan for Prison System Overhaul Moves Forward

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter today signed an executive order to develop a plan of action to tackle overcrowding in the city’s prisons that have resulted in the double bunking and triple bunking of prisoners, a number of lawsuits and a system that is 35 percent over capacity.

Nutter also appointed a permanent leader for the city’s prisons. Louis Giorla, who has been acting commissioner of the city of Philadelphia Prison System, will now be its permanent head.

The executive order Nutter signed in the mayor’s reception room during a press conference at City Hall requires Giorla and Everett A. Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety, to produce a plan within 30 days to posit both short-term and long-term reforms that can ease the strain on the city’s prisons.

“It’s no secret our prison system is bursting at the seams,” Nutter said.

In 1997, running the city’s prisons cost $117 million; the 2009 proposed prison budget calls for $230 million, Nutter said.

There were 5,700 inmates in 1998, but now there are over 9,000, the mayor said.

Possible reforms, Nutter said, include establishing an advisory board composed of representatives of all the stakeholders in the prison system, establishing a re-entry plan for each inmate from the day an inmate enters the system and increasing the job and educational training and drug and alcohol counseling available to former inmates in order to assuage recidivism.

Building a new prison is prohibitively expensive, Giorla said, but the development of short-term contract housing, the increase of day reporting programs for inmates and the development of a mental health court that would divert some inmates from the system all will help.

While Nutter’s crime-fighting plan under the purview of Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey is anticipated to increase the number of inmates in an initial swell, diverting initiatives will help the system deal with an increased population, Giorla said.

Stephen A. Madva, chairman of Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads, chair of the Philadelphia Prison System’s board of trustees and a member of the prison commissioner search committee, said Giorla impressed him with his understanding that the prison system not only keeps the larger community secure from people deemed to be a public danger but also must do what it can to reduce recidivism.

Giorla also was a popular choice to lead the prisons. “He has the reputation as a straight-shooter,” Madva. “He has the clear respect of his staff.”

Giorla, a Northeast Philadelphia resident, has come up through the prison system, including leading prisons as a warden. His father also was a corrections officer.

— Amaris Elliott-Engel, Staff Reporter

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One Comment on “Nutter’s Plan for Prison System Overhaul Moves Forward”

  1. Tricia Says:

    The Philadelphia Prison System not only needs to address the overcrowding issue but the staff issues as well. I have a family member in the system, he has had recurring problems with many correctional officers ,some of these officers are criminal themselves. I understand the system is extremely short-handed when it comes to staffing but does that mean we should fill those positions with anyone willing to take them? I feel there is not enough training for these officers, 10.5 weeks of training is not sufficient for people that will have a direct impact on the rehabilitation of the men and women in these facilities.

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