EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — Can a former state prison now be used as a county lock-up? Luzerne County leaders toured SCI Retreat in Newport Township, Tuesday.

The state closed the retreat in 2020 and now SCI retreat could be an option for Luzerne County to address its concerns regarding its current prison. On Tuesday, county officials got a ‘look see’ inside the retreat.

Eyewitness News was there as Luzerne County Officials toured SCI Retreat on Tuesday morning. They were here to see if the former state prison could possibly be used as the county prison or used in some way by the County Corrections System.

The commonwealth closed the retreat in 2020 as part of its cost-cutting measures and consolidation of its corrections systems. Nearly 1,000 inmates were sent to other state prisons and some 400 staff members, mostly corrections officers were offered positions at other state prisons. But is SCI a good fit for the county?

“It’s definitely a consideration. It’s a very big building. How much would it cost until we were able to narrow it down to which property? We would want to try to put money into figuring out if it would work,” Lee Ann McDermott, a County Council Member.

“I mean you have a distance from the courthouse, about a 20-25 minute drive which could be an issue. We’re going to be looking at that and see what it’s going to take to get a better situation than what we have right now on water street,” stated Matthew Mitchell- (r) County Council Member.

That situation Council Member Mitchell speaks of includes, overcrowding concerns and the condition of the county prison, which is more than 100 years old.

“So how much life does that building have in it? Yet, versus this building which was built in the early 1900s also. So, we have to get the correct people in to make the determination on the structure themselves and what’s the best options for the County, said Mark Rockovich, the Director of Luzerne County Corrections Services.

County Manager Randy Robertson tells Eyewitness News if SCI Retreat is chosen as a prison option, it won’t happen overnight.

“This option is years away. Everyone I think would underscore this is not going to happen next year. This is a huge place. Some of it would have to be demolished completely. A lot of it is gutted inside. So it’s a shell but it’s just a start.”

Area business owners say, their businesses have taken a hit since the retreat closed. They are hopeful the county will indeed use the facility.

County officials say the cost to taxpayers is a top priority. To build a new prison, It would cost around $400,000,000.

The state has offered to transfer the title of SCI Retreat to the county for $1. But what would it cost to make it all work? That is a question that right now, no one can answer.