The Myths Behind Governor Corbett's PA Budget Myths

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

Governor Tom Corbett's May 21 newsletter offered up responses to five "myths" the administration claims are circulating about his proposed budget for next year. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center examined these myths and the myths behind the myths to give you a clear picture about what is fact and what is fiction in Harrisburg.

Governor's Myth #1: Pennsylvania spends more money building prisons than building schools. 

We’re not sure where this one came from, but we will give it a whirl.

Fact: The Corbett administration’s budget includes a moratorium on new school construction projections, and NO FUNDING for school district projects in the pipeline.

Fact: If the Governor’s proposed plan for higher education is adopted, Pennsylvania will spend twice as much on prisons as it does on colleges. In 2009-10, the state's corrections budget was $1.8 billion and college funding was $1.5 billion. If the Governor had his way, Pennsylvania would spend $1.9 billion on corrections and $980 million on colleges in 2012-13.  

Fact: It costs the state much more to house prisoners than it does to educate a child. In 2011-12, Pennsylvania will house 49,000 inmates at a cost of $35,188 per inmate and spend $9.3 billion to educate 1.8 million students at a cost in state dollars of $5,305 per child.

Fact: It is better to build schools than to build prisons. 

Governor's Myth #2: The reductions in higher education funding will cause universities to raise tuition.  

Spending Twice as Much on Prisons as on Universities

A blog post by Chris Lilienthal, originally published at Third and State.

It is no secret that Governor Tom Corbett has proposed deep cuts to higher education institutions in Pennsylvania for the second year in a row.

But just what do those cuts mean? Well, we have two charts at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center's web site that speak louder than words when it comes to funding cuts for colleges and universities.

If enacted, the Governor's 2012-13 budget will result in a funding cut for higher education of one-third since the start of the recession.

Public Colleges Cuts by One Third Since Start of Recession

This budget will also mean that come 2013 Pennsylvania will be spending twice as much on prisons as on colleges and universities.

In 2013 PA Will Spend Twice as Much on Prison as on Colleges and Universities

"Beyond Obama" - A Day in Solidarity With African People November 6th

Group Challenges Racial Divide in U.S.

What: Conference
When: Saturday, November 6, 1:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Where: First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA
Contact: Harris Daniels, 857-233-7508

On Saturday, November 6, the African People’s Solidarity Committee will hold a public event entitled, “Beyond Obama: Seeking real solutions to the growing racial divide in the US.” The conference will feature presentations by leaders of the “Black is Back!” Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations; Friends and Family of Mumia Abu Jamal; the Black Agenda Report; and the Harlem Tenants Council. It is the culmination of an effort to raise $10,000 for the Uhuru Movement’s black community justice campaigns.

Positive Steps for our Justice System

Last week, Pew’s Philadelphia Research Initiative released a report on Philadelphia’s prison population. The report, “Philadelphia's Crowded, Costly Jails: The Search for Safe Solutions,” comes to some important conclusions, and I would encourage everyone to check it out.

As part of the release of the report, Pew and Penn Law had a really amazing event last week, examining the findings of the report. There was a panel that included Seth Williams, Everett Gillison, Michael Jacobson, Director of NYC’s Vera Institute of Justice and the Rev. Ernest McNear. And in the audience, audience, asking and answering questions were a pretty amazing array of people, from Ellen Greenlee, Pamela Dembe, the President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas and Seamus McCaffery, to Third Circuit Chief Judge, Ted McKee and Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla.

I believe the event was taped, and when I find a link I will put it up. It really was something to have a gathering of so many stakeholders and judges, that a submitted question from the audience comes from the Chief Judge of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

What was amazing was that there really was some very broad agreement the most important conclusion of the study:

One conclusion that emerges—and is shared by many in the city’s criminal justice system—is that the size of the population in the Philadelphia Prison System is largely within the power of policy makers to control and likely can be further reduced without jeopardizing public safety.

How can this be done? The report lists a number of important policies, which will take leadership in instituting, because they seem somewhat counterintuitive.

First, the report suggests that we simply may want to release a number of suspects on their own recognizance (without bail), as many other cities do. As the report notes, and Mr. Jacobson discussed, DC and New York release a higher number of people without bail, and yet, defendants appear for court at a higher rate.

Second, we should resist the temptation to throw people in jail for technical violations of their probation, and instead figure out some alternative punishment. As Mr. Jacobson again noted, when you defund your probation and parole systems, overworked officers simply do the easiest thing: throwing people in jail as soon as they see a violation. They are too busy to do anything else.

Third, divert non-violent people with addiction or mental health issues out of our prison systems.

All of these are easier said than done, especially when you tell a public that is already freaked over crime, that you are going to release more people, let more people out of jail without bail, have to build more day centers, etc. But, that is what leadership is about right? Again, I would encourage everyone to check out the report.

Then, yesterday, the Inquirer had a story about the DA’s efforts to modernize their data systems, and do things like actually track outcomes:

During her 18 years in office, District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham insisted she would not "do justice by the numbers." And the Philadelphia court system's administrator, David C. Lawrence, similarly said, "We're not in the research business."

That meant overall conviction rates for violent-crime cases in the Philadelphia courts were unknown - until The Inquirer drew on raw court data to report that nearly two-thirds of all defendants accused of violent crimes walked free of all charges.

Abraham's successor, District Attorney Seth Williams, has now obtained a $492,000 grant to equip his office with software that, for the first time, will be able to routinely produce conviction data.

Eventually, his office plans to make the results publicly available on what it says will be a greatly retooled office website.

As the article notes, it’s not just the ability to track conviction rates, but the reason for which those convictions potentially fail, and other important data.

Frankly, I agree with my friend Lynne Abraham in a sense: You cannot do justice purely by numbers. But, that sure doesn’t mean you shouldn’t collect the data, or that this is simply academically interesting (as David Lawrence suggests). Examining data will not only let prosecutors or defenders see where their respective success rates lie, but will also let all of us analyze the system for systemic failures, and even hidden abuses. On the police side of things, NYC is a constant example of why we should want data:

Blacks and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped by the police in New York City in 2009, but, once stopped, were no more likely to be arrested. The more than 575,000 stops of people in the city, a record number of what are known in police parlance as “stop and frisks,” yielded 762 guns.

Of the reasons listed by the police for conducting the stops, one of those least commonly cited was the claim that the person fit the description of a suspect. The most common reason listed by the police was a category known as “furtive movements.”

Ah, the old furtive movement… Anyway, numbers matter. This doesn’t mean we ignore basic principles of our justice system. But, in 2010, we absolutely should be measuring outcomes, and collecting information that allows us to see the best and worst parts of our justice system.

And finally, in another piece of the article, there is a little snippet that a public interest lawyer anywhere can appreciate:

In the future, Philadelphia prosecutors should be able to update their cases, issuing subpoenas and swapping information with defense lawyers during pretrial discovery, with a few keystrokes.

Whether they are defenders, prosecutors, or civil legal aid attorneys- public interest attorneys are forced to spend times on things that shouldn’t take nearly as long as they do, because there is not the same level of support staff as at a firm, and because it is hard to justify big investments in technology. So, something like this just makes so much sense.

And, as Ellen Greenlee notes, it cannot be only the DA’s who make these advances:

Ellen Greenlee, director of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, which provides representation for those too poor to hire a lawyer, said her staff needed to upgrade its technology as well.

"We're still on paper," she said. "For the system to function at all, it's necessary for all the stakeholders to communicate. They can't let us lag behind."

Sorry for the rambling. Between seeing just about every stakeholder at the Pew event, for the release of a really hopeful report about reducing the number of people in jail, to the District Attorney actually tracking outcomes, the last week has been a hopeful one for our criminal justice system.

Stop the Deportation of Denis Calderon and Julio Maldonado!

Below is an open letter written to Philadelphia DA Candidate Seth Williams, by Maria Rolon, written about her two cousins Denis Calderon and Julio Maldonado.

Please sign petition to stop the deportation of Denis Calderon and Julio Maldonado:

More info at:

View PDF version of the open letter:


Saturday, September 05, 2009

Dear Mr. Williams,

Responding to the new film about Mumia Abu-Jamal

The trailer for the new film about the Mumia Abu-Jamal/Daniel Faulkner case, titled The Barrel of a Gun has just been released. The title refers to a quote from Mao Zedong, that Abu-Jamal made as the 15 year old information officer of the Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther Party in response to the murder of BPP members Fred Hampton and Marc Clark by the Chicago police and the FBI in December 1969: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

In this new article, German author Michael Schiffmann confronts the film's pernicious title and explains why the scenario presented by prosecutor Joe McGill is ballistically impossible.

We, Journalists for Mumia, grant permission to reprint this article, so please help us spread the word in any way you can.

You can watch the trailer for "The Barrel of A Gun" here:

Video interview with Philadelphia activist/author Dan Berger

Philadelphia's Dan Berger discusses his new research into US prison movements of the 1970s, which Berger is researching and writing about for his PhD dissertation at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

Beyond Attica: The Untold Story of Women's Resistance Behind Bars

Hi folks,

Check out my new review of Victoria Law’s book: Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women. Permission is granted to reprint as long as Alternet is cited as the original source.

Beyond Attica: The Untold Story of Women's Resistance Behind Bars
By Hans Bennett, AlterNet

"When I was 15, my friends started going to jail," says Victoria Law, a native New Yorker. "Chinatown's gangs were recruiting in the high schools in Queens and, faced with the choice of stultifying days learning nothing in overcrowded classrooms or easy money, many of my friends had dropped out to join a gang."

"One by one," Law recalls, "they landed in Rikers Island, an entire island in New York City devoted to pretrial detainment for those who can not afford bail."

Support Parole for PA Prisoner Leonard Peltier - Hearing 7/27

Letters in Support of Parole

It is really important that everyone write letters in support of
Leonard's petition for parole. These letters can be quite simple
and should cover the basic points important for parole decisions. A
sample letter follows. Feel free to use it, but know that it's even
better if you write one in your own words. Be courteous and concise.

Get as many people to sign similar letters, as well. Carry a sheaf of

Philadelphia Tribune Columnist Linn Washington Jr. speaks about Mumia Abu-Jamal

Linn Washington Jr. (a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune and a professor of journalism at Temple University) speaks at "More Than a Book Party" in Philadelphia at The Church of the Advocate on April 24th 2009. The video is embedded below in three parts.

The Angola Three: Torture in Our Own Backyard

Hi YPP, check out my new article featured at Alternet:

Please help spread the word, if you can. Permission is granted to reprint anywhere, as long as Alternet is cited as the original source.

Check out the Spanish language translation here:

Also, the PhillyIMC article has a few extra videos and photos that I compiled:

The Angola Three: Torture in Our Own Backyard

By Hans Bennett

(, May 2, 2009)

NAACP LDF Files Brief at US SC for Mumia Abu-Jamal

Check out this strong new statement of support from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund supporting Mumia's appeal at the US Supreme Court. Below is the summary statement on their website, and this link is for the actual amicus brief:

March 5, 2009

NAACP Legal Defense Fund Files Brief in Supreme Court in Mumia Abu-Jamal Case

(New York, NY) – Today the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) filed a friend of the court brief in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal's claim of racial discrimination in the selection of the jury for his 1981 death penalty trial. LDF's brief supports Mr. Abu-Jamal's request for United States Supreme Court review of his appeal urging enforcement of the laws that require courts to promptly investigate evidence of discrimination against African American prospective jurors.

Action Alert: 6 Prisoners Assaulted in the Camp Hill SMU on Inauguration Day

I just got this alert from HRC, an important group challenging abuse of prisoners, and this is an ongoing story I've been following for a while. This retaliation can't be allowed. Please help if you can!

On January 20, 2009 guards in the Special Management Unit (SMU) at the State Correctional [sic] Institution (SCI) in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania assaulted six prisoners, reportedly citing as reasons that these men file grievances against guard misconduct and are engaged in civil litigation against DOC officials.

We are asking that you read the alert, become angry, and act accordingly to help protect the men in the SMU and by extension all others subjected to the normalized white supremacist torture occurring on a daily basis inside prisons in the state of Pennsylvania and throughout the U.S.

Leonard Peltier beaten in Pennsylvania! He needs our help!

See below the disturbing email sent out by

For more background on his case, check out Incident at Oglala:

Dear LP Supporters

Syndicate content