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Philly to Pay $125K to Settle Claim of Inhumane Jail Conditions

Corrections1: Chris Palmer | February 2, 2022

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — For the second time in seven months, Philadelphia has agreed to pay $125,000 to community bail advocates to avoid being found in contempt in a federal lawsuit over claims that prisoners in the city's jails are being subjected to inhumane and dangerous conditions.

The settlement — part of a broader lawsuit that remains ongoing — was reached last week. The Philadelphia Bail Fund said it plans to use the money later this month "to free as many people as possible" from what it called "deplorable, life-threatening conditions" behind bars.

The payout came after civil rights lawyers, including some with the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, filed a motion in December saying many prisoners were not being provided enough time out of their cells to shower, get medical care, or make phone calls. Some people were not let out of their cells for days at a time, according to the lawsuit, which calls those conditions a violation of the Constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Those conditions, advocates say, continued even after a federal judge had ordered the city several times to increase the number of hours prisoners were exit cells, according to the lawsuit.

The city responded in court documents that it had been working to manage "an incredibly complex system in the midst of an airbone, viral pandemic," while also seeking to balance the "tension between getting the incarcerated population out-of-cell-time ... and mitigating the risk of virus transmission."

Kevin Lessard, a city spokesperson, declined to comment further on the pending litigation.

Last June, the city previously had agreed to pay $125,000 to two bail funds to resolve complaints about lockdown conditions.

Beyond the risk of COVID-19, the jails have been in the midst of a number of overlapping crises since the onset of the pandemic, including severe staff shortages, cell locks that can be easily broken, a series of disturbances on cellblocks, and increased violence.

One man last year was stabbed by three attackers on a cell block without an officer nearby, according to video obtained by The Inquirer. And at least 18 prisoners died in the jails in 2021, including at least three by homicide.

On the staffing shortage, Lessard said the jails were "in the midst of an intensive recruitment/hiring process as we contend with an aggressive labor market," and that the city hopes to have a large class of cadets begin working later this month.

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