In an effort to clarify its position, Mayor Kenney's administration said Wednesday that the dilapidated, 91-year-old House of Correction may still house inmates after 2020.
Kenney last week had said that plans called for shutting down the State Road facility by that year and that a study was underway to determine future uses for the complex, which would not be demolished due to the multimillion-dollar cost of doing so. "Reaching the point where we can shutter this facility once and for all, without needing to build a new prison, this is a milestone," he said.
On Wednesday, however, city officials said inmates still may have to be incarcerated at the House of Correction after 2020, such as when other jails are overcrowded. It currently houses 140 inmates.
"We're hopeful and optimistic that we will reach the point that we will never have to put somebody in the House of Correction ever again," said Julie Wertheimer, chief of staff for criminal justice in the managing director's office. "But there are forces outside of our control. The prisons commissioner has to take who the justice system gives her."
"We are committed that no one will be in there by 2020 and that's why we are working with all our partners to make sure that happens," Wertheimer said.
Mike Dunn, Kenney's spokesman, agreed. "You can make a commitment, you can set goals, but anything under the sun can affect your ability to achieve those goals," he said. "But the commitment hasn't changed."
Meanwhile Wednesday, prison reform activists demonstrated outside City Hall calling for the House of Correction to be demolished. The activists, gathered in front of the new statue of 19th-century civil rights activist Octavius Catto, noted that Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney had also said the jail may have to remain open beyond 2020.
Carney told the Inquirer and Daily News in a statement Wednesday that in the short term the jail would mainly be used for administrative offices, security staff training, programming, and graduation ceremonies.
Protesters said the jail — known among inmates as "the Creek" — is dirty, dangerous, and dehumanizing, and should be shut down.
"Close means close. It doesn't mean we're going to empty it out and shuffle people around and use it in the future. It means close, it means deconstruct, it means demolish," said Reuben Jones, who runs a nonprofit called Frontline Dads and who was released from a state prison in 2002 after serving 15 years for robbery and aggravated assault.