State Prisons to House Out-of-State Inmates

NANTICOKE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)- Fear, concern, and lots of anxiety: those are just some of the emotions felt by many people in our region earlier this year after plans were announced that three state prisons were on the chopping block.

At the time, state prison officials attributed the closings to a massive budget deficit. Our local prisons were saved, and now they may soon be housing out-of-state inmates.

Pennsylvania will be taking in as many as 400 inmates from Vermont, whose system is overcrowded.

Sources tell Eyewitness News the decision will help fill the empty 5,000 prison beds across the commonwealth, which once put our prisons at Waymart, Frackville, and Retreat in jeopardy of closing.

So what does a restaurant have in common with a state prison? A lot when that state prison is just down the road and many of its employees stop in to eat.

"When I heard [about the possible closures] I had a little panic going on," says Ralph Frank, owner of Stooke's BBQ.

Frank remembers all too well when the news broke in January that SCI Retreat might be closed. It and two other prisons facing possible closure to save money, and because there are too many empty beds in many of the state prisons.

Today, the news is very different- Pennsylvania prisons will soon house those hundreds of inmates from Vermont.

"Retreat hired a lot of folks with multiple shifts and thanks like that," says Frank. "For us just to have this be solid of growing a little bit is great."

Pennsylvania has signed a three year deal with Vermont to take inmates they cannot house, and that's a step in the right direction for the Keystone State, says Representative Tara Toohil.

"I think we are looking for a revenue source and this is a potential revenue source," says Toohil. "If other states have a lack of beds and they are overcrowded, they can give us some of their prisoners and rent beds from us."

State Senator John Yudichak agrees, saying this Vermont deal could be a first step in resolving the state's $1.2 billion budget shortfall and keeping our local prisons and jobs in business.

"We recognize that we have to be creative," says Yudichak. "This partnership with this interstate agreement to bring in up to 400 inmates could mean $10.5 billion for the state of Pennsylvania."

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is also working with the justice department to try to house federal inmates from its overcrowded prisons.

Word of the contract with Vermont comes on the same day that a state prison in Pittsburgh is being closed. That's the prison selected in January when SCI Waymart, Retreat, and Frackville were on the chopping block.


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