In an unprecedented action against mass incarceration, a statewide coalition is embarking on a 100 mile march across Pennsylvania to demand “A People’s Budget, Not a Prison Budget.” The march will start in Philadelphia at Love Park at noon on May 25 and conclude with a noontime rally at the state capitol building in Harrisburg on June 3, as the state legislature reconvenes to discuss the budget for next year. Marchers are demanding that the General Assembly refuse to pass a budget with increases in corrections spending. They further call for the governor to stop the $400 million construction of two new prisons in Montgomery County, outside Philadelphia.
The march is being organized by Decarcerate PA, a grassroots campaign working to end mass incarceration in Pennsylvania by insisting that the state stop building prisons, reduce its prison population, and reinvest money into local community resources. More than thirty organizations are cosponsoring the march, including public school advocates, immigrant rights groups, faith-based communities, and a wide array of racial and economic justice organizations.
"Everyone in Pennsylvania has an investment in stopping prison growth." said Layne Mullett of Decarcerate PA. "That's why community groups, churches, labor unions, parents, teachers, students, formerly incarcerated people, legislators and entire families are getting involved. We know we all benefit when the state invests in education, not incarceration."
The March for a People’s Budget is an impressive and creative step in a growing national movement against mass incarceration, according to several high-profile analysts.
Voicing her support for the march, noted scholar and activist Angela Davis said, "This march is not just about one state budget. It is about enacting a vision of a society rooted in humanity instead of prisons. Decarcerate PA is an exciting part of a growing national movement to challenge the erroneous idea that prisons make us safer." These endorsers say the march is breaking new ground in the fight against mass incarceration.
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Like other states, Pennsylvania has embraced a path of austerity. In recent years,Republican governor Tom Corbett has cut more than a billion dollars from education, eliminated General Assistance, and slashed health care spending. Philadelphia alone is in the process of closing twenty-three schools. Yet the PA Department of Corrections is requesting an additional $68 million increase in next year’s budget, which will push the DOC budget over $2 billion for the first time in the state’s history. Further, the state proceeds to expand its prison system.
“At a time when prison populations are finally beginning to decline nationally, it’s unfortunate that Pennsylvania is planning to build new prisons,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, a national prison reform group. “We’ve seen that sentencing and drug policy reform, along with a broader array of non-prison options, can have a significant impact on the number of people incarcerated.
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Prison construction also assures that resources will be less available to invest in the communities most heavily affected by mass incarceration.”
The March for a People's Budget includes rallies and community events in towns and cities along the ten-day march route highlighting the costs of social austerity. The march begins only two weeks after Philadelphia witnessed a massive student walkout in protest of school closings.
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