Philadelphia prison chief to leave job after string of inmate deaths and escapes

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Monday, March 25, 2024
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PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The chief of the Philadelphia Department of Prisons is leaving the job after a series of inmate deaths and escapes.

Blanche Carney, who has overseen the city's four prisons and jails since 2016, is retiring, a department spokesperson confirmed to Action News.

The city's lockups have been dealing with surging violence and the escape of several inmates in a span of six months last year.

Blanche Carney

In May of 2023, inmates Ameen Hurst and Nasir Grant escaped the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center (P.I.C.C) located at 8301 State Road.

Carney said at the time there were three separate headcounts taken before the inmates were found to be missing. Both men were later captured.

Gino Hagenkotter was an inmate at the Riverside Correctional Facility before he made his escape on November 30, 2023.

SEE ALSO: Sources: Recaptured murder suspect traveled to NYC after Philadelphia prison break

Left to right: Ameen Hurst and Nasir Grant

Officials said Hagenkotter fled the facility while working a detail assignment in the orchard behind the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Facility.

He was later found dead in a warehouse on East Venango Street. According to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Hagenkotter died from a drug overdose and the manner of death has been ruled an accident.

The Pennsylvania Prison Society, a group that monitor's the state's prisons, interviewed nearly 50 inmates in Philadelphia last year and issued a report that documented the "dangerous and degrading conditions in the Philadelphia prisons."

The report said that inmates were confined to "rat-infested, caged areas, with insufficient food and insufficient healthcare for weeks or months at a time while their mental health deteriorates." Ten inmates died in 2022, according to the report.

The Philadelphia correctional officers union cast a unanimous "no confidence" vote in Carney last year, asserting the facilities were understaffed and in "chaos."

Carney, the first woman to serve as prisons commissioner, acknowledged the problems in her letter to prisons staff, saying the pandemic had "caused a tremendous strain on correctional operations worldwide."

Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker released this statement on Carney's retirement:

"I wholeheartedly thank Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney for her long career of public service to the City of Philadelphia."

Commissioner Carney led the system under times of great stress and duress. There will be no shortage of second-guessing her performance. However, I have a great deal of respect for the job the Commissioner has done. We wish her well, and thank her for the dedication she has demonstrated to our City."

Our prisons system is in transition, as are many prisons nationwide. The Parker administration is committed to making every change needed to implement a well-run prison system."

A national search is underway. I anticipate an announcement of a new prisons commissioner soon."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.