An 8-year-old girl with pigtails sat in the corner of the 8th and Diamond Recreation Center on an old workout bench, with sneakers without socks and a hole where her big toe almost pokes through.
Alasia Young said she learned about jail in her elementary school, William McKinley—a lot.
“Jail is for bad people,” she said. “And good people sometimes that do bad things go to jail.”
Young was one of the community members who attended the #No215Jail Coalition community meeting in the Recreation Center on Oct. 14 with her mother, Tahisha Young. Young lives on 9th Street near Berks and her son, Anthony, will be incarcerated for five to 10 years in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, she said.
The #No215Jail Coalition held its first community meeting in the 8th and Diamond Recreation Center on Oct. 14. Coalition members of many different organizations and community members voiced their ideas to answer one of Philadelphia’s largest issues: mass incarceration.
About 20 community and coalition members brainstormed ideas for how to take action against a new jail and ways to keep people from the “school-to-prison pipeline”. Pennsylvania has been criticized for by the Education Law Center for its increase in prison funding and Philadelphia school closings.
Some of the discussion topics included solutions to the issues that come before and after incarceration, including more programs at recreation centers, ridding the system of unnecessary charges tacked on and more oversight of defense attorneys, courts and judges by independent bodies.
Many community members shared their own experiences with mass incarceration and why they feel Philadelphia doesn’t need another jail.
Terrance Williams, a member of the coalition and the community, was incarcerated at the age of 17 for two-and-a-half years after being convicted for being connected to a home invasion. He has just returned from his sentence about seven months ago, and now he is pushing to see less people getting jailed.
“They [people] already got us labeled as statistics out here,” Williams said. “These little kids— labeled as soon as they come out [of school], they go to jail, get killed, or get caught up in dumb stuff instead of going to college becoming professors, becoming mechanics, becoming nurses and doctors.”
“When they come out [of high school] they [people] don’t ever expect like, ‘Oh this gonna be a lawyer out here,’ they don’t ever expect that,” he added. They expect, ‘Oh, that kid is in jail or dead or on the corner.’ When you come out, they don’t think anything positive about you.”
Now, Williams said he works for Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project. YAS provides programs for individuals aged 18 and under who return home from jails, according to its website.
2006 Temple alumna and former criminal justice major Rasheedah Horn came out to the meeting to advocate for change.
“I’m taking responsibility for the change I want to see happen,” Horn said during the meeting.
The coalition came together this past spring when Philadelphia City Council member Bobby Henon proposed Bill 150406 to purchase a $7 million property on State Road to build a new prison and close Philadelphia’s current House of Corrections (HOC). The coalition came together to advocate for the closing of HOC and spending money in education or other programs instead.
Henon deferred the bill to more hearings this fall for re-referral after the Coalition advocated for the stoppage of the bill. Henon wrote in a letter to Mayor Nutter he still believes that Philadelphia needs a new prison, but he will be putting together a working group that #No215Jail Coalition will be a part of.
Some of the organizations collaborating in the #No215Jail Coalition are Decarcerate PA, Philadelphia Student Union, X-Offenders for Community Empowerment and the Human Rights Coalition.
The coalition will continue to meet every two weeks on Wednesdays in the Recreation Center and will put together an action plan to make changes in the prison system in Philadelphia, Williams said.
“These meetings can’t be for nothing or they would be building a jail down on State Road right now,” Williams said.
Gillian McGoldrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gill_mcgoldrick.