Philly’s Number One! But Not in a Good Way…

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Philly’s Number One! But Not in a Good Way…

As Karen Heller writes today on — Philadelphia leads the country in percentage of citizens incarcerated. Read on to find out why prisons are a booming industry, how many grams of cocaine you could fit in a sugar packet, and why keeping a prisoner in jail is about the cost of a year’s tuition at a fancy college.

Philadelphia has an inferiority complex. Every time I tell locals about how I recently moved here from New York City, they are a little awed — some cheer as if Philadelphia has gotten a little closer to evening a score. Then in a deprecating manner, they estimate that I’ll move back to New York City within the next year or two. Optimists give me three years before I split.

I’m learning the reasons why Philadelphians aren’t so proud of the city — we’re not as financially successful as New Yorkers, we’re not as connected as those in D.C., and no one’s written an HBO series about us like they did for Baltimore. While the living here is cheap and easy, businesses large and small seem to be having a hard time turning much of a profit. While artists can do without jobs, most of the rest of people are pissed off about a lack of opportunity.

Finally, a headline screamed that Philadelphia is Number One in something! But as Karen Heller explains on —we’re number one at incarcerating our population.

“If the United States leads the world in incarceration,” says civil-rights lawyer David Rudovsky, “Philadelphia leads the United States.”

We have a higher percentage of our citizens in prison than anybody else, 3.5 times more than New York City.

We’re No. 1!

So sad for the people of Philly — and so bad for the city’s budget. As the article points out, prisons are a big industry. They create jobs for construction workers, wardens, etc. But they steal so much more from the community — they often turn nonviolent offenders into violent ones, perpetuate racism, keep families separated. Look, I’m not in favor of criminals, but I don’t think that our prison system — which gets exponentially bigger every decade — is solving any problems.

Nonviolent defendants charged with petty drug dealing, constitute the majority of cases in these courts. If convicted, felons face mandatory minimum sentencing: one to two years for selling two grams or more of cocaine or heroin for the first offense, three to six years for subsequent offenses.

A packet of sugar is four grams.

And it costs $30,000 per year to keep a prisoner in jail — couldn’t the money be better spent?

Heller’s piece is worth reading in full here.

Anyone out there have a comment about how prisons affect your city’s quality of life?

Diana Lind is the former executive director and editor in chief of Next City.

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Tags: philadelphiajobsbudgetsprisons

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