Court Filing Asks Court to Hold City in Contempt As Crisis Looms in Philadelphia Jails

Plaintiffs Seek Monetary Sanctions of More Than $20,000 per Day

April 8, 2024 


Connease Warren, Abolitionist Law Center, 713-304-8990,
Ben Bowens, Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, 267-838-0620,
David Rudovsky, Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin, 215-925-4400,

PHILADELPHIA – Plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the Philadelphia Department of Prisons (PDP) filed a motion for contempt for the jails’ failures to comply with a Court-monitored Settlement Agreement – failures that have led to “profound” trauma and suffering for those incarcerated in the Philadelphia jails. Calling for immediate resolution for longstanding issues, the motion also demands that daily fines be imposed, which ultimately would be distributed directly to individuals incarcerated in the Philadelphia Department of Prisons. 

The case, Remick, et al., v. City of Philadelphia, et al., was originally filed in 2020, and sought to protect people incarcerated in the Philadelphia jails from the dire inhumane conditions as well as from Covid 19.  A Settlement Agreement was approved by the federal court in July 2022, and  was designed to address and improve conditions for people incarcerated in the Philadelphia Department of Prisons (PDP). A key component of the settlement agreement was the appointment of a federal court monitor assigned to assess compliance with the Agreement. 

Conditions and a staffing shortage has reached crisis levels and have left incarcerated people vulnerable to unsafe, unsanitary, and often deadly conditions. Two years after the Agreement, the City has still not complied with the terms of the Agreement and conditions remain unacceptable. The plaintiffs are represented by the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC), the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP), and Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP. 

“After years of litigating against the city on behalf of thousands of incarcerated people whose human rights are violated daily in Philadelphia prisons, this motion was filed because the City is not in compliance with the terms of the settlement agreement,” said Nia Holston, staff attorney for the Abolitionist Law Center. “It goes without saying the jails are in absolute crisis and have been for years. The city has turned a blind eye to fixing longstanding cultural issues, and instead, the jail population has continued to increase. This motion calls for financial sanctions paid directly to incarcerated individuals. The original lawsuit and today’s motion of contempt, we hope to shine a light on these systemic issues and more importantly, hope for a brighter day where people no longer have to suffer.” 

Two years after PDP came under supervision from a federal monitor, the Monitor’s Fourth Report details continued non-compliance with the Agreement. Jail populations have increased, while staffing levels are at record lows, with a corrections officer vacancy rate of almost 50%. Plaintiffs are requesting fines of $5 per person per day, which would total over $20,000 a day, until the city makes substantial progress on staffing and conditions in the jails.

“We are gravely concerned about the people incarcerated in the Philadelphia jails,” stated Su Ming Yeh, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “The court monitor has explained that the trauma experienced by the incarcerated people is ‘profound’ and ‘clearly observable,’ and we hope that today’s court filing will spur improvements to the jails’ conditions.”

Other violations that contribute to the crisis in the jails include limited out-of-cell time, especially for those in segregation units, inadequate mental healthcare, and delayed medical care. These violations have led to injuries and even death, with ten deaths in 2022. Fourteen people died in 2023. At least one of those individuals was killed after spending less than one day in the Philadelphia jails.

“We hope today’s Motion serves to highlight the crisis currently occurring in the Philadelphia Department of Prisons, accelerate the City’s compliance with the two-year-old Settlement Agreement, and mitigate the horrific conditions for our fellow Philadelphians who are currently incarcerated,” said Susan Lin of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin. 

The motion for civil contempt and sanctions in Remick, et al., v. City of Philadelphia, et al., 2:20-cv-1959, was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The Plaintiffs are represented by Nia Holston and Rupalee Rashatwar of Abolitionist Law Center; Su Ming Yeh, Matthew Feldman, and Sarah Bleiberg Bellos of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project; and David Rudovsky, Susan M. Lin, and Grace Harris of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP.

Read the filing, case page and Court Monitor’s Reports:

1) November 4, 2022
2) March 3, 2023
3) October 12, 2023 and
4) March 29, 2024