HARRISBURG, PA - In reaction to a pattern of complaints about excessive force at Dauphin County Prison that has spanned several years, a new coalition of six local and statewide organizations will hold its first public meeting Tuesday night to engage the community on problems at the jail.
County Prison Watch (CPW) is a new collaboration between the Lewisburg Prison Project, Firm Foundation of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg ACORN, the Pennsylvania Prison Society Dauphin County Chapter, the Pennsylvania State Conference of NAACP Branches, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. The coalition will host "A Town Hall Meeting: Dauphin County Prison" on Tuesday at 7pm at Martin Luther King Baptist Church in Harrisburg.
"The complaints that we and our partners have received give us great concern that there may be a systemic pattern of abuse of inmates at Dauphin County Prison," said Cheryl Humes, Staff Attorney with the Lewisburg Prison Project. "We are hopeful that we will have the opportunity to work with the prison board and the county government to correct this apparent problem."
Humes noted the impact that a culture of violence in a prison has on public safety.
"If inmates are abused in prisons and re-enter society with mental health issues, they are at greater risk of continuing to commit crimes, which puts the public at greater risk," Humes said. "DCP and many of the Commonwealth's other county prisons are already overcrowded. It's imperative that the prison board and staff not make matters worse by tacitly endorsing a policy of excessive force by their failure to take action."
CPW's six partners have heard complaints about beatings at Dauphin County Prison over an extended period of time. While some of the coalition members have attempted to address these issues quietly with the county government, the organizations recognized they could potentially have greater impact if they worked together.
"Problems with excessive force at DCP have been related to us by inmates for years," said Darlene Moore, Co-Convener of the Dauphin County chapter of the Pennsylvania Prison Society. "It's time to put a stop to it."
Although some of the coalition members have had dialogue with the prison board and county government in the past, CPW opted to hold a public meeting before approaching public officials as a group so that the public would have an opportunity to voice its concerns.
"By holding this public meeting, it's an opportunity for the community to be empowered and be a part of the process," said Andy Hoover, Community Organizer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. "The community deserves to be heard, and it would be inappropriate for us as a coalition to anoint ourselves as a problem solver without first talking with members of the community."
Hoover noted that the prison board's monthly meetings, which are held on the third Tuesday of each month at 1:30pm at the prison in Swatara Township, limit the opportunity for the public to be a part of the process.
"If the board held its meetings in the evening in the city, they might find the dynamic of the meetings would be different," Hoover said. "It would certainly provide an opportunity for greater engagement between our public officials and the community."
Martin Luther King Baptist Church is located at 1501 Market Street in Harrisburg.