The Philadelphia Department of Prisons has been locked in federal litigation for more than a year with civil rights lawyers who say conditions are unsanitary, cleaning supplies inadequate, the climate dangerous, and the time prisoners spend outside of cells inhumanely scarce. A judge found grounds to hold the city in contempt of an order to let people out of their cells at least three hours a day. And sanctions of $10,000 a day — payable to Philly’s two nonprofit bail funds — could be imposed as soon as June 10 if the city fails to comply.
Now, the Defender Association of Philadelphia has begun filing petitions demanding action even sooner, arguing for the immediate release of some clients from jail conditions it says are “so cruel and callous” as to be unconstitutional.
“Given everything I’ve heard and seen over the past six months, it’s not only a legal responsibility but a moral responsibility to bring this information to the attention of the courts in the interest of seeking our clients’ release,” said Alan Tauber, the city’s acting chief defender. “We really have no choice.”
The filings, known as habeas petitions, constitute an unusual though not unprecedented approach — sparked by what advocates say is one of the worst crises in a half-century, one that has seen the city prison system embroiled in five sprawling lawsuits litigated over the course of years or decades.
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