Inmate dies in Philadelphia jail – 14th death in custody this year

Kelly Crawford died after being incarcerated at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center.
Metro file

A woman incarcerated at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Facility died last week following a brief hospitalization, becoming the second person to die in recent weeks after spending a day in the city jail system.

Kelly Crawford, 43, was admitted to PICC on Dec. 11 and, at around 1:45 p.m. the next day, correctional officers found her unresponsive after other inmates called for help, according to the Philadelphia Department of Prisons.

Emergency medical technicians performed CPR on Crawford and took her to Nazareth Hospital, the department said. She was later put on a ventilator and died Thursday, Dec. 14, prison officials told Metro.

PDP Communications Director John Mitchell did not provide Crawford’s cause of death, though he said in an email that foul play is not suspected. The department is still investigating the fatality, he added.

Crawford was brought in on a drug possession charge, which likely would have resulted in her being released without bail. But she had an open warrant related to a 2021 drug case, according to court records.

Like Crawford, Rocco Carbonara, 44, had a warrant, for an alleged 2019 robbery, when he was apprehended, and he spent less than 24 hours in custody before he was fatally beaten Nov. 30 by another inmate inside a holding cell at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.

Carbonara’s warrant specified that he was not supposed to be held behind bars, according to an Inquirer report, though a city spokesperson told the newspaper that defendants with such a warrant can be incarcerated if the courts are not open.

Crawford was the 14th inmate to die this year in the city’s jails, all of which are clustered on State Road in Northeast Philadelphia. Ten incarcerated people died in custody last year.

“What we know is that every single one of these deaths are preventable, and that the jails are effectively a death trap where people are sentenced to life-threatening conditions,” said Sam Lew, an organizer for the Abolitionist Law Center, which has advocated for increased prison oversight and reducing the incarcerated population.

Hours after Carbonara’s killing, 34-year-old Gino Hagenkotter, an inmate at Riverside Correctional Facility, escaped while on an outdoor work assignment. He was found dead last week of a suspected accidental drug overdose inside a Harrowgate warehouse.

Hagenkotter was the fourth person to escape from the city jails in 2023.

PDP has been dealing with a severe staffing shortage – with around 40% of correctional officer positions unfilled – and is being monitored by a federal court as part of a settlement stemming from a class action lawsuit brought by inmates over prison conditions.

Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney has said that, without an influx of staff, the system can only meet the settlement’s requirements with a maximum of 3,500 inmates – 1,100 fewer than the current population.

Legislation establishing a new prison oversight board, which proponents say would have more authority than PDP’s current advisory board, was introduced in June; however, City Council has yet to hold a hearing on the bill.

If passed, the legislation would put the measure on the ballot for voters in the next election.