Civil rights groups say Philly’s understaffed, violent jail system is in contempt of court

The Philadelphia Inquirer, 04/08/24: “Nearly two years after the city of Philadelphia settled a federal class-action lawsuit over a jail system so understaffed that prisoners were stuck in their cells 23 hours a day or more, the staffing crisis is worse than ever, advocates say.

Now, civil rights groups representing the more than 4,600 people incarcerated in the Northeast Philadelphia jail complex say the city should be held in contempt for its “pattern of systemic violations of the constitutional rights” of prisoners.

The contempt motion, filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia Monday, seeks $5 per prisoner per day in damages until two baseline conditions are met: correctional officer vacancies are reduced to 30% of budgeted positions and all prisoners are getting at least an hour a day out of their cells. That roughly $23,700 in daily fines, proposed to be payable directly to incarcerated people upon their release, would far exceed any sanction so far imposed during the lawsuit.

But lawyers for the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, Abolitionist Law Center, and for the civil rights law firm Kairys Rudovsky Messing Feinberg & Lin LLP say a hefty fine is warranted, given the harrowing conditions they say people in the jails are enduring.

David Rudovsky, one of the lawyers handling the case, said the proposed sanction aims to inspire the urgency the situation demands. ‘It’s been going on so long, with so many deprivations, that action has to be taken immediately on these issues.’”

Read the full article here.