HARRISBURG (WBRE/WYOU) – State legislators say they’ve received word the Wolf administration will not close SCI Retreat in Luzerne County, SCI Frackville in Schyulkill County or SCI Frackvilly in Schyulkill County.
Eyewitness News confirmed the action ahead of formal word by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Thursday, which announced January 6th that it was considering closing two state prisons and five candidates were on the chopping block.
Combined, the three facilities employ more than 1,500 people in the region.
Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel today announced the Wolf Administration will close the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Pittsburgh by June 30, 2017.
Closing SCI Pittsburgh by June 30, will enable the department to realize an estimated annual net savings of $81 million. The other four prisons under consideration will remain in operation.
“Closing an institution is a challenging process, and this decision, made in consultation with Governor Tom Wolf, only came after considering input from stakeholders and an extensive review of all of the institutions and took into consideration several factors including the age, size, location, programming, and economic impact on local communities,” said Wetzel. “While we initially felt that closing SCI Pittsburgh would present challenges for closure, upon review of the information, we feel confident that those challenges can be mitigated by relocating the services and specialized units to other facilities.”
Every employee of SCI Pittsburgh will be offered a job within DOC and that inmates will be relocated safely to appropriate facilities with available beds.
The Department said it needs to close two prisons in order to save money, and to consolidate bed space because some prisons were being under utilized.
State lawmakers have been critical of the Wolf administration for the speed in which the decision has been made, saying the administration was not allowing enough time to fully consider the impact on the communities surrounding the facilities.
State Senator John T. Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon) praised the bipartisan effort of Luzerne County officials to successfully keep SCI-Retreat open and its 400 prison workers employed. Senator Yudichak said that SCI-Retreat would have been closed without the tireless advocacy of State Senator Lisa Baker and Representatives Gerald Mullery (D-Newport Township), Tarah Toohil, Aaron Kaufer, and Eddie Day Pashinski.
On Monday, January 23, State Senators held a special hearing in an attempt to learn that impact for themselves.
“We’re losing about $5,000 in real estate taxes plus a good working relationship with Newport Township has with Retreat with their work force working in the community,” said Newport Township Commissioner John Zyla.
The union representing corrections officers and staff also blasted the administration at that hearing, saying “This time around, instead of coming around and saying ‘we are going to close the prisons’ they out five communities, pitted them against each other. Pitt you you all against each other – why should this prison stay open and why should this prison close,” Jason Bloom the head of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officer Association told the Senators.
Check back later for more on this developing story.