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Hunger, Filth, Constant Danger: Incarcerated People’s Accounts of Philly Jails Paint a Grim Picture

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The Philadelphia Inquirer: Samantha Melamed | November 16, 2021

Forty-two days without a shower. Foot-deep sewage flooding cells. Broken or ignored emergency call buttons. These are some of the claims raised in the latest filing in a federal class-action lawsuit against the Philadelphia Department of Prisons, which included 70 pages of affidavits by 18 incarcerated people.

“The conditions at the Philadelphia prisons really are very dire,” said Su Ming Yeh, executive director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “There are not only sanitation issues and infestations of vermin, but also delays in medical care, increase in violence, and a breakdown in operations.”

The jails, which house about 4,600 people in a complex in Northeast Philadelphia, have struggled for the past year with a staffing crisis, facility failures including broken locks, and a climate of violence. Fourteen people have died in custody this year. (That’s the same death toll as in New York’s Rikers Island, which has three times as many prisoners.)

The prisons department announced last week that it is resuming in-person visits for vaccinated prisoners, as mandated by Senior U.S. District Judge Berle M. Schiller. But according to the filing, the jails are still not keeping up with Schiller’s orders to increase out-of-cell time as a step toward full reopening by January 2022.

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