Philadelphia, PA - At 12 pm on Saturday, May 25th, a broad coalition of community groups, nonprofits, labor organizations, education advocates, and formerly incarcerated organizers will rally in Love Park to kick off their 113-mile march from Philadelphia to Harrisburg. The “March for a People’s Budget: Stop Prison Expansion Now!” will last for ten days, as members of the grassroots coalition, Decarcerate PA, make their way across Southeastern Pennsylvania to the state capital, where they will rally on June 3rd as the legislature returns to debate the budget. The marchers are demanding that the General Assembly take a stand against Pennsylvania’s out-of-control prison growth. In particular, they are asking legislators not to grant the Department of Corrections its requested $68 million increase in funding while prison construction continues, and to cancel the $400 million prisons slated to be built on the grounds of SCI Graterford in Montgomery County.
“Pennsylvania does not want, does not need, and cannot afford any more prisons,” said Decarcerate PA member Brian Mertens. “We want to see our taxpayer dollars invested in the things that make our communities stronger, like education, health care and social services, not in building more prison cells.”
The Corbett administration’s $685 million prison construction program has drawn the ire of education advocates such as Eric Blaustein, a teacher at Hopkinson Elementary School and member of Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. “What kind of message are we sending to our young people when we prioritize cages over classrooms?” asked Mr. Blaustein. “It’s time our lawmakers in Harrisburg put a stop to this.”
With twenty-three Philadelphia public schools closing next year, and a 4,100-bed prison construction project taking place just outside the city in Montgomery County, the marchers insist that this failure of priorities couldn't be starker. “We’re fighting back against the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Crystal Pulle, a junior at Kensington Urban Education Academy and president of the Citywide Student Government, who participated in last Friday’s massive student walkout.
The march has been endorsed by over thirty co-sponsoring organizations, including Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Jobs with Justice, the Community College of Philadelphia’s Faculty and Staff Federation and the Support Center for Returning Citizens. City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson has supported the march as well, along with Representative Vanessa Lowery Brown, Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. “This march will send a clear message to my colleagues in Harrisburg that the time for unchecked prison growth is over,” said Representative Brown. “We need to put our money into creating educational opportunities.”
On the route, marchers will make stops in Haverford, Norristown, Collegeville, Pottstown, Reading, Womelsdorf, Lebanon, and Hershey before rallying on the State Capitol steps at noon on June 3rd.
Marchers are planning community events and discussions in nearly all of the communities in which they are stopping. On Sunday, May 26th, in Norristown, the marchers will join with DreamActivist Pennsylvania and local community organizers for a rally against immigrant detention, deportation, and criminalization. The event will be held on the steps of the Montgomery County Courthouse from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m., and will feature speakers who have been incarcerated in detention centers and who are fighting to build the power of undocumented people. On May 27th, marchers will stop in Collegeville, where construction on two new prisons is underway. On May 29th, at 7pm, they will host a panel discussion on “The Underground Railroad and the School-to-Prison Pipeline” at the Hopewell Mennonite Church in Reading.
“We’ve written letters, circulated petitions, held protests, and even engaged in nonviolent acts of civil disobedience,” said Leana Cabral of Decarcerate PA, who was arrested in November for blocking a prison construction entrance with a school desk and an apple. “Governor Corbett and legislators like to talk about being prison reformers, but they don’t walk the walk. So we’re walking all the way to Harrisburg to make sure they know we won’t go away until Pennsylvania stops building prisons and starts reinvesting in our communities.”
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Decarcerate PA is a grassroots campaign working to end mass incarceration in Pennsylvania. We demand that PA stop building prisons, reduce the prison population, and reinvest money in our communities.
The “March for a People’s Budget: Stop Prison Expansion Now” is being co-sponsored by a growing list of organizations, including:
ACLU - PA
Books Through Bars
Broken On All Sides movie project
Campaign for Nonviolent Schools
The Center for Returning Citizens
Coalition of Labor Union Women
Every Mother is a Working Mother Network
Fight for Philly
Global Women's Strike
Granny Peace Brigade Philadelphia
Hearts on a Wire
Human Rights Coalition
International Action Center
International Socialist Organization
Jobs with Justice
NAACP Graterford Branch
New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia
Payday Men's Network
Parents United for Public Education
Philadelphians Allied for a Responsible Economy
Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers
Philadelphia Student Union
Philly Survivor Support Collective
Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation
Support Center for Returning Citizens
Teacher Action Group
Women of Color in the Global Women's Strike
Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project
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