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Citizens Protest PA Prison Expansion At Graterford Prison

 John GrantPhotos: John Grant

About 50 people converged on Tuesday afternoon July 17 along Route 29 in Montgomery County near the Graterford State Prison to declare their opposition to the building of more prisons and the expansion of existing prisons like Graterford in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Graterford is already a massive institution.

The theme of the demonstration was Jobs Not Jails and Schools Not Prisons. Specifically, there was the $685 million in construction pushed by the Corbett administration in Harrisburg for over 8,000 new prison beds in the state -- this at a time many citizens feel the state should be re-evaluating things like the dismally failed Drug War, figuring out alternatives to prison and thinning the prison population, thus saving the taxpayer money and re-directing funds to more beneficial areas.

The main group organizing the demonstration was Decarcerate PA, a coalition of organizations and citizens fed up with the trend that emphasizes more prisons while things like education and health care get squeezed and cut to the bone.

Organizers said this effort was an experiment, since no one had ever mounted a demonstration in the area of Graterford Prison, a massive complex in Montgomery County west of Philadelphia. The area is pretty conservative. So the demonstrators were cautious.

The intersection off Route 29 for the Graterford Prison entrance road was well covered with about ten state police officers milling around and waiting. This reporter arrived a little early and, planning to walk over to speak with the police, parked in the tavern parking lot across from the entrance. But within 20 seconds, two state troopers were at my window. We were politely told the owner of the tavern did not want the likes of us in his lot.

The troopers told us there was a parking lot a half mile away where demonstrators could park and collect. In modern police parlance, that meant that lot was designated to be the “free speech zone” for the afternoon.

As Decarcerate PA folks arrived and the crowd grew in the blazing heat of the parking lot, it was decided the group would march single file toward the Graterford entrance. Immediately, a state police car with lights flashing met the group and stopped it.

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Trooper Furlong, in the photo above, did the talking, and he was very polite and friendly. He said all the businesses in the vicinity of the Graterford entrance had been polled and no one wanted the demonstrators on their private property. The entrance intersection is, indeed, a pretty tight spot.

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