Top 10 Worst Prisons In Pennsylvania You Want To Avoid (2024)

Exploring Pennsylvania's most challenging prison environments unveils a troubling history rooted in the state's penal system evolution. Commencing in the early 1800s with the Eastern State Penitentiary's idealistic focus on prisoner reform through solitary confinement, the current state of Pennsylvania's prisons reflects a system marred by corruption, violence, and inadequate funding. The initial intention of rehabilitation gave way to a punitive approach, featuring hard labor and physical punishment by the mid-1800s.

Facing challenges throughout the 20th century, Pennsylvania's prisons grappled with issues like corruption, violence, and insufficient funding. Recent advocacy for prison reform emphasizes reducing mandatory minimum sentences and enhancing inmate access to education and job training programs.

Identifying the worst prisons involved assessing factors such as inmate deaths, violent incidents, staff misconduct, and living conditions. Healthcare quality, educational and vocational programs, and access to legal resources were also crucial considerations. Inmates enduring excessively long sentences or incarcerated for non-violent offenses contributed to a prison's placement on the list.

Common across these prisons is deplorable living conditions, with inmates crowded into small, poorly maintained cells lacking air conditioning. Healthcare access is limited, with prolonged waits for medical attention and reports of denied treatments. Criticism extends to the use of solitary confinement, which studies indicate can lead to severe psychological effects, including depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Corruption remains a pervasive issue in Pennsylvania's prison system, manifesting in contraband smuggling and excessive force by staff members. This culture of corruption hampers the rehabilitation of inmates, diverting attention from their transformation and successful reintegration into society.

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Considering alternatives to incarceration, such as community service, rehabilitation programs, and electronic monitoring, emerges as a viable solution to alleviate overcrowding and improve conditions. Community service allows offenders to contribute positively to their communities, while rehabilitation programs address underlying issues and reduce recidivism. Electronic monitoring offers an alternative to traditional incarceration, enabling house arrest or probation with effective supervision.

Pennsylvania's ongoing prison reform efforts focus on overcrowding and mental health issues. Alternatives to incarceration, community-based programs, and investments in mental health services aim to create a more effective and humane system. However, challenges persist, and more comprehensive measures are needed to shed Pennsylvania's reputation for having some of the nation's worst prisons.

Former inmates' harrowing stories depict a grim reality of violence, corruption, and inhumane living conditions within these prisons, underscoring the urgent need for change. Interviews reveal pervasive fears for safety, instances of assault, threats, and inadequate access to necessities like clean water and medical care. Female inmates report sexual harassment and assault, along with the emotional toll of isolation from family and friends.

Race and socioeconomic status significantly influence an inmate's experience, with people of color and those from lower-income backgrounds disproportionately affected. Achieving a fair and just system necessitates addressing these disparities.

The financial burden on taxpayers to maintain dysfunctional prisons prompts a call for investing in proven alternatives rather than perpetuating a broken system. A comparison with other states underscores that while Pennsylvania's prisons are among the worst, systemic issues plague prison systems nationwide, emphasizing the need for a collective commitment to prioritize inmate welfare and implement effective solutions. The exhaustive list of Pennsylvania's worst prisons underscores the imperative for comprehensive reform to create a system that genuinely benefits all stakeholders.

Top 10 Worst Prisons In Pennsylvania 2024

  • State Correctional Institution Greene
  • State Correctional Institution Smithfield
  • State Correctional Institution Fayette
  • State Correctional Institute Camp Hill
  • State Correctional Institute Coal Township
  • State Correctional Institute Benner Township
  • State Correctional Institution Rockview
  • State Correctional Institute Forest
  • State Correctional Institution Waymart
  • State Correctional Institution Dallas

1. State Correctional Institution Greene

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Claiming the undesirable top position on the list of the worst prisons is the State Correctional Institution Greene, marked by a distressing history of staff misconduct and numerous violent incidents, including multiple inmate deaths. The primary factor contributing to its notorious status is severe overcrowding, surpassing its intended capacity of 1,800 with a current population exceeding 2,500. This results in cramped living conditions, fostering tension and conflicts among inmates forced to share limited space.

Beyond the issue of overcrowding, State Correctional InstitutionGreene faces criticism for its inadequate rehabilitation programs. The prison's failure to provide inmates with skills and education contributes to a troubling cycle where released individuals struggle to secure employment and reintegrate into society. The absence of crucial support exacerbates the risk of reoffending, perpetuating the cycle of returning to prison for those released without proper resources and preparation.

2. State Correctional Institution Smithfield

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SCI Smithfield, closely trailing behind SCI Greene in infamy, grapples with extreme climate conditions, subjecting inmates to scorching summers and freezing winters due to inadequate climate control. Allegations of widespread staff misconduct and corruption further tarnish the prison's reputation. In addition to the harsh environmental challenges, SCI Smithfield faces criticism for deficient medical care, delayed or denied treatment, and reported instances of physical abuse by staff members.

The issue of overcrowding remains a significant concern in Pennsylvania's prisons, contributing to substandard living conditions. With nearly 45,000 inmates housed in facilities designed for just over 42,000, the consequences include increased violence, the spread of diseases, and limited access to necessities like healthcare, education, and job training programs. Efforts to address overcrowding through policies such as early release programs and alternative sentencing options are in progress, but more comprehensive reforms are necessary.

3. SCI Fayette

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State Correctional Institution Fayette is a notorious maximum-security prison in Pennsylvania, topping the list due to pervasive prison fights. With a 2,000-bed capacity, this facility has gained notoriety for both manufacturing license plates for the state and hosting frequent violent clashes among inmate groups and guards. Over the past decade, several deaths have been reported as a result of these confrontations.

The prison's disciplinary measures include 40 small cells at the end of the facility, reserved for the most problematic inmates. Conditions in these cells are described as hell-like, with minimal opportunities for showers, lack of sunlight, restricted visits from relatives, and food served exclusively through pie holes.

Adding to the grim situation, the death rate from cancer has doubled in SCI Fayette since 2003, with 52.78% of inmate deaths attributed to cancer, compared to 28.6% in other PADOC-managed facilities. This alarming increase is linked to inadequate medical facilities for inmate care.

Transferring to SCI Fayette brings concerns about confinement in cramped cells, potential gang-related conflicts, and heightened health risks, contributing to its reputation as one of Pennsylvania's worst prisons.

4. SCI Camp Hill

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State Correctional Institute Camp Hill, once marked by a three-day uprising in 1989 sparked by overcrowding and administrative changes impacting visits, food, and medical care, experienced a temporary improvement. Despite initial changes, the prison, housing 2,600 men across 14 buildings, has regressed to troubling conditions.

Administrative neglect has resurged, leading to an increase in suicides within the prison. Additionally, instances of sexual victimization of prisoners are on the rise. Despite authorities acknowledging early signs of potential issues, the overall state of SCI Camp Hill has deteriorated, losing the improvements it once achieved.

5. SCI Coal Township

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State Correctional Institute Coal Township, holding a capacity of 2,153 and established in 1993, has undergone a significant decline since 2020. While it remained relatively stable over the years, recent developments have raised concerns.

A notable issue facing the prison is a sharp increase in sexual victimization, with 3.9% of inmates reporting being victims of sexual attacks. Additionally, the surge in inmate suicides is attributed to poor hygiene and structural deficiencies within the system. These challenges have intensified due to overcrowding exacerbated by the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, with the potential for further deterioration in the days ahead.

6. SCI Benner Township

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State Correctional Institute Benner Township, also known as SCI Benner, functions as a medium-level security prison with a capacity of 1,900 and was established in 2013. Despite its relatively recent opening, SCI Benner has garnered a troubling reputation.

Overcrowding emerges as a major issue, leading to insufficient access to food and other essential facilities for inmates. This overcrowding-related problem contributes to a disturbing increase in suicides within the prison. The lack of care for prisoners and the sense of having no escape from their concerns have made suicides distressingly common. Despite its newness, SCI Benner has become a place few would willingly choose for their incarceration.

7. SCI Rockview

State Correctional Institution Rockview, or SCI Rockview, operates as a medium-level security prison, tracing its origins back to 1912, making it one of Pennsylvania's oldest. Achieving recognition through the 1978 movie "On The Yard," shot entirely within its confines, using prisoners as extras, SCI Rockview has a unique place in the state's prison history.

While historically deemed professional and healthy, its proximity to downtown has fueled a desire among prisoners to escape, resulting in a surge of escape incidents in the 1990s. To curb this trend, authorities enforce stringent measures, leading to reports of restricted outdoor time, inadequate food, frequent cell and guard changes, diminished program offerings, and punitive actions against those deemed potential escape risks. Despite its age and historical significance, SCI Rockview faces challenges in maintaining a secure and humane environment for inmates

8. SCI Forest

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State Correctional Institute Forest, a twenty-first-century maximum-security prison with a capacity of 2,309 inmates, commenced operations in 2004. Originally intended to alleviate overcrowding in SCI Pittsburgh and SCI Waynesburg, SCI Forest houses offenders convicted of serious crimes, aiming to provide adequate facilities.

However, the prison falls short of providing an ideal environment for offenders. Reports suggest instances of guards employing excessive force on inmates, and internal gangs, often led by notorious criminals, further contribute to the challenges within the facility. This environment has led to a gradual increase in the number of prison suicides, with authorities yet to fully address and acknowledge these concerning incidents.

9. State Correctional Institution Waymart (SCI Waymart)

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Located in Waymart, Pennsylvania, SCI Waymart was a medium-security facility that existed until recently. Notorious for its high rate of recidivism, more than 65% of individuals released from SCI Waymart in 2021 found themselves back behind bars within three years. Despite having a capacity for over 1,400 convicts, the facility struggled with overcrowding and staffing issues.

Established in 1931 with an initial focus on assisting juvenile criminals, SCI Waymart shifted its demographic in the 1970s, admitting more dangerous criminals. This change resulted in a higher inmate population and fewer staff members, contributing to the prison's overcrowded conditions.

The overpopulation and inadequate staffing at SCI Waymart were identified as significant contributors to the higher likelihood of released individuals returning to incarceration. Unlike other institutions, SCI Waymart lacked comprehensive programs to assist inmates in changing their behavior, thereby increasing the risk of recidivism.

It's important to note that SCI Waymart is no longer operational, emphasizing the challenges faced by Pennsylvania's prison system and the need for reform.

10. State Correctional Institution Dallas (SCI Dallas)

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Situated in Dallas, Pennsylvania, SCI Dallas is a prison housing approximately 1,200 inmates. The Pennsylvania Institution Society recently highlighted concerns about the institution's need for improved hygiene, light, and air.

Originally designed for troubled youth, SCI Dallas underwent a transformation into an adult facility in 1966 following a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that deemed the previous approach unconstitutional.

The prison has a history of issues, notably a significant battle in 1978 resulting in loss of life and injuries. In 1996, a judge declared the jail overcrowded and deemed it illegal to keep certain inmates in solitary confinement.

Despite some recent improvements, SCI Dallas still faces challenges. Inmates report mistreatment, insufficient medical attention during illnesses, and occasional harsh treatment. The prison continues to grapple with large prisoner numbers and safety concerns due to understaffing. This concludes the overview of Pennsylvania's top ten worst prisons, shedding light on ongoing issues within the state's correctional system.

Top 10 Worst Prisons In Pennsylvania You Want To Avoid (2024)

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