Thanks to the Prison Society’s monitoring, the Philadelphia jails are making two important changes to improve conditions for incarcerated people.
The city has agreed to adjust meal times to address reports of people going hungry between meals. The jails also pledged to provide tablet devices to the entire incarcerated population to provide more in-cell activities and programming.
Philadelphia Department of Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney made these commitments in her response to the findings of the Prison Society’s latest walkthrough. The memo we sent to the PDP and Carney’s response can be read in their entirety here.
Adjusted meal times ease hunger and expenses
On our two most recent walkthroughs, we raised the concerns about meal times in the jails. Dinner was served at 4 p.m., and incarcerated people didn’t receive their next meal until breakfast at 8 a.m. the next day–16 hours without food. For many people, this meant either going hungry or, for those who were able, spending money on supplemental food from the commissary.
Going forward, the PDP will serve dinner at 5 p.m. and breakfast at 6 a.m., reducing the gap between dinner and breakfast by three hours.
Tablets provide access to needed activities and education
Incarcerated people have consistently reported a lack of activities to do in their cells since we began our walkthroughs of the Philadelphia jails two years ago. Access to books, games, and educational programming has been even more important since the pandemic, as incarcerated people have frequently spent entire days confined to their cells.
The Prison Society has been urging Commissioner Carney to follow the example of Allegheny County and provide access to tablets loaded with media and activities for a few hours each day, among other measures to address this issue. The commissioner has gone further, promising to provide every incarcerated person with their own tablet, though she said it would take some time to accomplish.
We are encouraged by the PDP’s decision to take up our recommendations on these issues. At the same time, the Philadelphia jails are still in crisis, and there remains much work to be done to address conditions that threaten the safety and well being of incarcerated people.