MONTGOMERY COUNTY

Group protests new Skippack prison

MECHANICSBURG As Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections chief was in Washington talking about ways to reduce the number of inmates, a grassroots group from the Philadelphia area Wednesday was at DOC headquarters protesting the $400 million construction of two prison complexes in Montgomery County.

"The most important thing is to cancel the construction at Graterford," said Ashley Henderson of Decarcerate PA, saying the money would be better spent funding education and health care.

About 20 members from the group made the trip to Mechanicsburg and put on a 20-minute demonstration calling on DOC Secretary John E. Wetzel to "pull the plug" on the replacement prison. Wetzel was on Capitol Hill testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on ways to reduce incarceration.

The state-of-the-art Phoenix I and II facilities are expected to open at the end of 2015 in Skippack Township and will replace the aging State Correctional Institution at Graterford, which opened in 1929.

DOC spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said that Graterford was a "pretty old and expensive institution to operate" and that construction on the more efficient and safer Phoenix complexes "is going to continue." - Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman