The cell block where a man was sexually assaulted and killed over the weekend was left unsupervised for three hours, prison records obtained by The Inquirer show.
The staffing log for B1 unit at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility indicates that, at 5:04 a.m. on March 27, the lone officer was called away, “detailed to kitchen.” When another officer arrived at 7:58, he found the pod unattended, a sprinkler going off, and 35-year-old Armani Faison, naked and unresponsive, on the floor of his cell.
Workers and civil rights advocates say Faison’s death is at least in part a result of an ongoing crisis at the city jails, which as of Tuesday housed 4,668 people.
Union members have been raising the alarm for months about inadequate staffing and elevated violence in the jails, where Faison was the fourth person found dead in a cell in an apparent homicide since August of last year.
Shortly before his death, he was placed in a cell with an inmate who had been accused of sexually assaulting another prisoner just days earlier, internal records show. A fifth man was fatally shot in a parking lot in the jail complex shortly after he was released in March.
“This is not an aberration,” Claire Shubik-Richards, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, said of Faison’s death. “These are not safe facilities. The assaults on staff and these homicides are the most acute symptom of a chronic problem that they’re not safe facilities and they can’t be safe facilities with the current staff-to-population ratio that they’re having on a daily basis.”
In a statement, Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney said the administration “does not comment on active investigations, which are conducted with the purpose of gathering all evidence so that any wrongdoer can be held accountable both administratively and criminally.”
An internal database reviewed by The Inquirer counted 250 assaults on staff by prisoners from the start of 2020 through March 15, 2021. At a City Council hearing, staff raised alarms about prisoners hacking their cell locks so they could easily jump out and brawl, and about the increasing difficulty of getting prisoners to go back into their cells after a full year of pandemic-related lockdowns.
Just on Tuesday, two staffers and one inmate were sent to outside medical facilities for treatment after an assault that began when the prisoner threw liquid on an officer during meal service, an incident report showed.
“The prisons are crying for help and nobody is listening,” said David Robinson, president of the correctional officers’ union, Local 159 of AFSCME District Council 33. “Staffing definitely has a role in a lot of things that are going on,” he said. He added that the prisons are running on a skeleton staff and budget constraints are preventing certain posts from being staffed, while supervisors are constrained from calling in workers for overtime shifts.
In a court filing in March, (the city remains in litigation with civil rights lawyers over COVID-19-related precautions), officials pointed the blame back to workers. “Unfortunately, numbers of staff have developed a pattern of calling out, particularly on weekends and even without accrued leave, thus failing to come to work when they are scheduled to do so,” the filing noted.
Faison’s death, on a Saturday morning, fits that pattern of weekend callouts, a problem the city has been fighting for years.
Whatever caused the staffing shortage, former CFCF Warden John Delaney, who retired in July of last year, said leaving the unit unattended violates most basic security protocols.
“At no time should a housing area in any facility within the Philadelphia Department of Prisons be left unmanned for any extended period of time,” he said. “This not only compromises the health and welfare of the inmates assigned to that area, but it also jeopardizes the safety and security of the facility and places staff in unnecessary risk.”
Robinson said he’s not sure why the cellmate would have been placed with Faison after an accusation of sexual assault. Normally, a person in that situation would have been placed in restricted housing pending an investigation.
Faison, 35, a Brooklyn native, had been arrested on robbery and arson charges, but his father, Allrich Jean, said the charges don’t tell the whole story.
“He was a wonderful young man until he started getting sick with some kind of mental issue and his life started spiraling down a little bit. He started getting himself in trouble with law enforcement.”
He said his son had been repeatedly hospitalized due to bipolar disorder, but had at times resisted treatment. When he was off medication, that’s when criminal issues tended to arise, he said.
His family was both devastated and frustrated, Faison’s sister, Dream, said. “We’re getting no information. Nobody has been contacting me to tell me what happened, how did it happen.”