A Pennsylvania disgrace that isn't Tom Corbett's fault


Human rights violations -- they aren't just for Gitmo anymore:

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A federal civil rights investigation has concluded that a state prison in western Pennsylvania kept inmates with serious mental illness in solitary confinement for months or even years at a time.

The State Correctional Institution at Cresson violated the constitutional rights of inmates with mental illness and intellectual disabilities by keeping them in their cells 22 to 23 hours a day, the U.S. Justice Department said Friday. It said the prison used solitary confinement as a means of warehousing mentally ill inmates because of serious deficiencies in its mental health program.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections plans to close Cresson, but the Justice Department said the misuse of solitary confinement could extend to prisons statewide. The department is expanding its probe to include all state prisons.

The administration of first-term GOP Gov. Tom Corbett said it will review the findings and continue to cooperate with the Justice Department probe.

As the headline above notes -- my co-worker* Tom Corbett wasn't the govenor who caused this problem -- and good on him if he's the governor who fixes it. Over-reliance on prisons to solve all of our social problems has been the norm in Pennsylvania for some time, and Corbett's Democratic predecessor Ed Rendell was no better. It's time to start spending more money on educating our kids and less on waiting to lock them up.

That's why Attytood is very encouraged (yes, blogs have feelings...who knew?) by the efforts of the group Decarcerate PA, which has been marching from Philadelphia to Harrisburg and is going to push its case for a new direction tomorrow.

Here's more:

Marching with the group is Malissa Gamble, who says she spent 15 months in a state prison for burglary and other crimes a decade ago.The state needs better prison programs on parenting, job training, and housing to help inmates transition back into their communities much more than new facilities, she said.

"And I'm not saying they all are not there. I'm saying that I have been a witness to them not being there," Gamble said. "Or either they are so outdated that they don't exist. I think the money that (Gov.) Tom Corbett is using to build those jails would be better served providing programs that are usable."

This should be a no brainer. We can reduce prison spending and focus on making young people productive taxpayers, and we should. Because when scenes from western Pennsylvania sound like outtakes from "Midnight Express," our state has lost its moral compass.

* Not really.