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Testimony on Proposed Prisons Charter Amendment

Testimony on Proposed Prisons Charter Amendment

Philadelphia City Council
Committee on Law and Government
Bill Nos. 140014 and 140015; Resolution No. 140035

April 28, 2014

I am Patrick Christmas, Senior Policy Analyst at the Committee of Seventy, a non-partisan watchdog organization fighting for honest and effective government, fair elections and better informed citizens.

I’m here to support the proposal to create, within the Charter, a new Philadelphia Department of Prisons and Board of Trustees. This a matter of effective governance, and the Committee of Seventy applauds Councilman Jones and City Council for taking up this issue.

Today, with an annual operating budget of approximately $240 million and 2,300 full-time employees, the Philadelphia Prison System is the largest city agency that is not its own department. Most other city departments are a fraction of the size.

Though the prison system has operated independently for years, its existence under the auspices of the Department of Human Services (DHS) has persisted.

The practical consequence of this arrangement is the Prison Commissioner’s inability to appoint deputies exempt from civil service regulations. (The Charter allows up to 10 for each department.) Although the DHS Commissioner has this authority and could make appointments on behalf of the prisons, doing so would require sharing the DHS allotment of appointments. At this time, DHS has nine exempt positions. The prison system has none. All three of Commissioner Giorla’s deputies were promoted according to civil service rules.

Providing agency executives with latitude to choose their own deputies, should they opt to do so, is a critical facet of effective governance. In addition to the DHS Commissioner, other city department heads use this authority. The Police Department has seven exempt deputies and the Fire Department has five – both similar to the prison system not only in their size and complexity, but also in the gravity of their work.

Further, as we understand the proposal, it’s anticipated that all of the city’s re-entry services will be brought under one roof by merging the Mayor’s Office of Re-integration Services for Ex-Offenders with the new Department of Prisons. The potential shift would ensure more seamless and effective programming for thousands of detainees – most of whom are Philadelphians. This is paramount for them and for the city.

Finally, this proposal updates antiquated provisions in the Charter to reflect reality – that Philadelphia’s modern prison system has the responsibility to study and implement best practices in all aspects of correctional institution administration. The proposed Charter amendment creates the opportunity for a better functioning system, and we urge its passage.

Thank you.