FALLING RATES of minor crimes and a shift to community-based punishments for petty offenders are slowly changing the demographics of Philly jails.

City prison officials say a drop in minimum-security inmates is so significant that two overflow jails will close: the Cannery for female inmates in Holmesburg, and a facility for men in University City.

Together, the two jails can house up to 292 inmates, prisons spokeswoman Shawn Hawes said.

The University City jail will close March 31, saving "several thousand dollars a month" in rent, staffing, food services and other costs, Hawes said. The closure also "reduces the need for overtime as officers and staff will be redeployed to the main jails," Hawes said.

The Cannery, located at the old Holmesburg Prison, will be "mothballed or considered for an alternate use," Hawes added. Its closure date hasn't been set, Hawes added. About 700 of the system's 7,900 inmates are women, according to prison data.

Crowding has been a persistent problem in the prisons, one that civil-rights groups have filed lawsuits to remedy.

"Our census has reached as high as 10,000," Hawes said of past crowding problems. "If overcrowding becomes an issue again, we will return to our options: reopening auxiliary spaces and utilizing agreements with other counties to hold inmates."

Beyond the city's six main prisons, officials will continue to house inmates at the Cambria Community Center, on 18th Street near Cambria in Swampoodle; and Liberty Resources, at 10th Street and Lehigh Avenue. Together, they house more than 400 minimum-security and work-release inmates, Hawes said.

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