For Immediate Release: October 6, 2022
City Issues Formal Apology for Experiments Conducted at Holmesburg Prison Decades Ago
PHILADELPHIA – Today, the City of Philadelphia takes the opportunity to apologize for the experiments conducted by the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia’s Holmesburg Prison. From the 1950s to the 1970s, inmates were intentionally exposed to pharmaceuticals, viruses, fungus, asbestos, and even dioxin, a component of Agent Orange. The vast majority of those subjected to this wide range of experimentation were Black men, many of them illiterate, awaiting prosecution and attempting to save enough money to make bail. Whatever the “ethical norms” for prison experimentation were at the time, it was wrong to exploit this vulnerable population. This is yet another tragic example of disgraceful and unethical practices of medical experimentation on people of color throughout our country’s history.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney stated:
“While this happened many decades ago, we know that the historical impact and trauma of this practice of medical racism has extended for generations—all the way through to the present day. One of our Administration’s priorities is to rectify historic wrongs while we work to build a more equitable future, and to do that, we must reckon with past atrocities. That is why our Administration today, on behalf of the City of Philadelphia, is addressing this shameful time in Holmesburg’s history.
“Without excuse, we formally and officially extend a sincere apology to those who were subjected to this inhumane and horrific abuse. We are also sorry it took far too long to hear these words. To the families and loved ones across generations who have been impacted by this deplorable chapter in our city’s history, we are hopeful this formal apology brings you at least a small measure of closure. Recognizing the deep distrust experiments like this have created in our communities of color, we vow to continue to fight the inequities and disparities that continue to this day.”