Sunday, November 20, 2016

Potential new prison site sold to recycling firm

by Tricia L. Nadolny and Julia Terruso, Staff writers Philadelphia Inquirer
When the city last year considered buying land along the Delaware River as the site for a new prison, the backlash was swift and the plan was shelved. But the door remained open, as Mayor Kenney, then the Democratic Party nominee, said the land could be ideal for an educational facility for inmates.

That opportunity seems to have passed.

A purchase agreement is in place for the 58-acre property, which Morris Iron & Steel hopes to use to expand its adjacent scrap-metal recycling facility. Councilman Bobby Henon, who was in favor of purchasing the property last year in light of the poor conditions at the city's House of Correction, on Thursday introduced a resolution to rezone the property for the new use.

"This new administration is committed to ensuring the [inmate] population is decreased. And if they can decrease it enough, maybe there's not a need for the House of Correction," said Henon, whose district includes the land.

The proposed purchase was among the most contentious issues on Council last year, when the debate became intertwined with a conversation about providing more funding to the School District. Kenney has since focused on reducing the city's prison population, in part through a grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

His spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, on Thursday said the mayor remains interested in a new facility only if it has "a heavy focus on rehabilitation and skills training for reentry."

Ron Greller, president of Morris Iron, said the company plans to maintain a walking path that runs along one side of the property and create a small community park along the Delaware River.

"It's a win-win for the community," Henon said.

Also Thursday, Council President Darrell L. Clarke introduced a bill that would make it harder for businesses that do not meet diversity workforce requirements to get city contracts. It would require such businesses to provide proof they sought minority participation, or risk being blocked from city contracts.

Clarke also introduced an ordinance approving the financing of a $60 million bond to pay for a backlogged home-repair program. The money would fund repairs in about 5,500 homes owned by low-income residents.

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