Inmate Stress High As PA Plans Big Prison Move

The $400 million, 3,830-bed Phoenix prison near Philadelphia will replace the state’s 95-year-old Graterford prison. Many inmates dread the relocation to a modern prison with enhanced security and surveillance measures.

Years after Pennsylvania’s newest, biggest, and most expensive prison, State Correctional Institution Phoenix, was slated for completion, certificates of occupancy have been issued for the entire $400 million, 3,830-bed complex near Philadelphia, reports. The move from Graterford Prison finally seems imminent. Staff have packed up their offices. Men housed at Graterford, which Phoenix will replace, have been issued two moving boxes each. “All the shops are shut down; the machinery is out. Counselors are living out of boxes in their offices,” said inmate Jorge Cintron Jr. The move is expected by June 30.

Many inmates dread the relocation from the 95-year-old Graterford to a modern prison with enhanced security and surveillance measures, and cellmates for men who’ve had cells to themselves for years. The last few months have been a particularly stressful time at Graterford, which saw five suicides and the resignation of the superintendent. Programs for inmates may be disrupted during the transition. The “Healthy Change” group, a coalition of longtime prisoners, met with Corrections Secretary John Wetzel in hope of facilitating the move. In a memo drafted by eight of those inmates last September, the men pleaded for better communication about their future living conditions, counseling for inmates distressed by the move, and supports for elderly or infirm inmates who worried about possible top-bunk assignments or other physical challenges. “The horror stories about where we will live build by the day. This is very stressful,” they wrote, citing rumors about sinking and flooded buildings and broken plumbing at Phoenix.