The Philadelphia Department of Prisons has agreed to pay $125,000 to the city’s two community-run nonprofit bail funds — while avoiding a formal finding of contempt in a federal lawsuit over what civil rights lawyers said were cruel and draconian lockdown conditions.
That agreement comes four months after a federal judge ordered the department to provide people at least three hours a day out of their cells, reflecting what some experts say is the bare minimum for humane treatment.
Before that, to manage the spread of COVID-19, the city had limited out-of-cell time to 45 minutes a day — and then, as infections spiked citywide, to just 15 minutes a day. But because of short-staffing, some reported going days or even weeks without the chance to shower or make a phone call.
In response to the failure to comply with the court order, lawyers for those incarcerated had initially sought sanctions of $10,000 a day, payable to the Philadelphia Bail Fund and Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, doubling every two weeks. The agreement filed Wednesday averts a hearing on whether to impose such a penalty.
“We felt a one-time payment would serve as both compensation and coercion [to ensure the city’s ongoing compliance],” said Su Ming Yeh, executive director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project.
City spokesperson Deana Gamble said the agreement was “in the best interest of the city, taxpayers, and the inmate population” and noted that conditions had been improving for those incarcerated at city jails.
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