The construction of the new state prison in Montgomery County constructively indicts some Black politicians who accept campaign contributions from construction industry entities that black-ball Black businesses and Black workers.
The $315-million SCI Phoenix is the prison complex slated to replace the infamous Graterford prison that is located about 31-miles outside Philadelphia.
This new twin-prison facility (maximum- & medium-security sections) taking shape on Graterford’s grounds projects a capacity of 4,100 inmates.
Based on current imprisonment practices, a sizeable percentage of inmates filling Phoenix will come from Philadelphia.
Philadelphians comprise nearly one-third of the more than 51,000 inmates crammed into Pennsylvania’s expensive prison system according to that system’s latest posted annual statistical report.
The number of persons from Philadelphia County (30.4 percent) inside Pennsylvania prisons far exceeds Allegheny County (7.9 percent), the second largest inmate-contributor to the state’s prison system.
Allegheny County, which includes Pennsylvania’s second largest city (Pittsburgh), is a county with a similar number of residents as Philadelphia, the only combined city/county in this state.
Pennsylvania prisons, incidentally, consume nearly $2 billion annually with the majority of that government funding paying salary and benefit costs for the predominately white staff that oversees the predominately non-white inmate population.
Since 77 percent of Pennsylvania prison inmates possess no or really low work skills at the time of prison admission the fact that Phoenix is rising without equitable involvement of Black-owned construction businesses and Black construction workers adds another near criminal insult to the historic injury of the illegal exclusion blocking equitable economic inclusion.
State officials, during a meeting in Montgomery County, stated that no Black-owned firms were involved in the architectural design phase of Phoenix.
Further, state officials, during a meeting at Freedom Theater in North Philadelphia, indicated that white female owned construction companies — but not Black-owned firms — are onboard for contracts with the Phoenix project.
This perceived black-out of Blacks on the Phoenix prison project fits the pattern of discriminatory exclusion rampant in the construction industry in Philadelphia and across America.
Fall-out from this deliberate exclusion accelerates the societal problems contributing to the mass incarceration arising from convictions that are both legitimate and unjust.
The construction of Phoenix is a part of a $685-million prison expansion program by a state government whose Republican governor ruthlessly slashes funding for public education, health care and other services for the needy in the name of needing to reduce governmental spending.
It is an established fact that poor education is a predictor of criminal misconduct … regardless of the fact that conservative/law-&-order types incessantly ignore this fact.
Nearly 43 percent of all Pennsylvania prison system inmates “have less than a 12th-grade education” according to the system’s latest posted “Inmate Profile.”
The fact that some Black politicians (and Black preachers too) say little to nothing publicly about pressing issues like mass incarceration, construction industry discrimination and derelict public education is offensive.
There’s no polite way to say this.
Some Black politicians (and Black preachers too) need chiropractic care.
These persons tasked with leadership in our communities need spinal adjustments.
Specifically, these persons need some “backbone” — the courage and commitment to stand-up consistently for the best interests of their constituents and congregants.
As the legendary Malcolm X once observed: A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.
A major problem with some Black politicians and Black preachers is not necessarily standing-for-nothing, but failing to do the things screaming for action.
The reality is many problems with education, economic opportunity, employment, etc. which persistently plague Black communities arise from too many leaders falling short or selling out.
Too often, too many of these leaders only stand for their self-interest.
Too often, these (mis)leaders subvert the greater good instead of advancing it.
Self-interest isn’t inherently detrimental but it is damaging from those who position themselves as acting on behalf of the many.
Now, declaring this need for more “backbone” in Black leadership circles doesn’t disparage all in those circles as needing spinal strengthening, because there are many serious and selfless political and religious leaders.
“Backbone” for political leaders, for example, would thrust Black elected officials into the forefront of efforts to achieve real campaign finance reform.
Money is a major pollutant in politics. Politicians need money to finance their election campaigns. And, too often, Black politicians accept contributions from individuals and entities whose interests are antithetical to the interests of the Black community.
In Philadelphia, building trade unions with track records of racist employment practices provide campaign cash to Black politicians resulting in too many Black politicians being too timid about tackling the rancid job discrimination perpetrated by the trade unions that keep constituents of those politicians unemployed.
There’s an ugly twist to the payday interests of those unions receiving precedence over equal employment opportunities of Philadelphia residents (Blacks and others alike) who vote for those politicians (unlike suburban union members).
The money swelling the coffers of discriminatory trade unions from income generated by publicly funded construction projects pays for battles (legal & political) to blunt, if not kill, rare initiatives to rein in their employment racism.
Further, major construction industry companies that constantly hire discriminatory trade unions devote portions of their profits from publicly funded construction projects to pay for battles (legal & political) that gut affirmative action programs.
Ultimately, poor political representation results from people persistently electing unrepresentative representatives.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.