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Amid Controversy, Nutter Insists He Has No Plans to Build New Prison

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Controversy is growing over Mayor Nutter's plan to purchase land in the Northeast, potentially for a new prison. In the face of that, he seems to be trying to distance himself from the idea of a new jail house.

The mayor's proposed budget includes nearly $8 million to buy a huge parcel in the Northeast, near the existing prisons.

At the time Nutter's Prisons Commissioner, Louis Giorla, said the land is needed for the eventual construction of a new jailhouse to replace the aging House of Corrections:

"That'll enable us to select adjacent property, or property on our reservation, that will be suitable for the construction of a replacement jail."

But two months later that plan is under fire. The city's Planning Commission voted against the purchase, questioning whether the riverfront land is best used for a prison. And school funding advocates are criticizing the idea, saying that money should go instead to the schools.

On Thursday Councilman Bobby Henon, whose district includes the parcel, held the legislation from a final vote.

He said the Planning Commission's vote was not the reason: "It will not factor into the decision to hold. I do plan on moving forward."

The growing controversy prompted Nutter to question the accuracy of media reports of his plans:

"I think the first thing that's most important is that we're always factual with our information. That bill is not about a prison. That bill is about land adjacent to a dilapidated and old and outdated facility. We have no plans to build a prison anywhere in the Administration. And I ask that we have accuracy in reporting."

Nutter is correct that the legislation itself does not mention a prison, and any actual construction would fall to the next mayor. But as recently as two weeks ago, Prisons Chief Giorla was crystal clear when speaking to a city council committee that this land is needed for a new prison:

"This, we feel, is a unique opportunity to have our operations consolidated and remain on State Road. If we had to select a site this size to accommodate a facility that large elsewhere in the city, I don't think we'd find community support."

Henon vows to call the land purchase bill up for a vote once his colleagues have more time to study the plan.

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