Department of Corrections Recommends Closure of SCI Retreat

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HUNLOCK CREEK, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — SCI Retreat should be closed. That’s the word Wednesday from the state Department of Corrections.

The state prison has been on the chopping block since last August and after public hearings and lobbying from lawmakers, the closure recommendation was issued Wednesday.

SCI Retreat could be closed within the next several months unless Governor Tom Wolf decides otherwise. This is the 600-page report released today. But many people in these parts believe the decision to close was a foregone conclusion.

“Clearly the people of Luzerne County and the employees of SCI Retreat were not respected in this process,” said Senator John Yudichak.

And that is what we heard over and over again Wednesday as people reacted to the DOC (Department of Corrections) report recommending SCI Retreat should be closed. It means 400 employees, most of them corrections officers, will no longer work in Luzerne County.

They have been offered positions in other state prisons but many say it may be too much of a challenge and will probably try to find work elsewhere. The 1,200 inmates will be sent to other state prisons.

“If you look at the report in their own numbers this is a $60 million negative impact to the economy. A loss of 400 jobs,” said Yudichak.

The DOC cites three main reasons for the closing SCI Retreat: a decline in the inmate population statewide, a massive deficit in the DOC budget and that it would cost taxpayers $20 million to renovate the aging facility. But all of this is suspect after open mic comments made by DOC Secretary John Wetzel at a public hearing on the closure at Nanticoke High School in early November.

“You know what? This does suck. I wish I didn’t have to close this (expletive). It is what it is,” Wetzel was overheard saying.

“Did anyone really listen to what the folks here had to say?” Senator Lisa Baker asked.

Baker has her concerns about how this closure decision was made.

“I think many people believe the process was already predetermined so a lot of disappointment,” Baker said.

The president of the union representing the corrections officers issued a statement on the DOC closing: “Secretary Wetzel’s comments caught on a microphone at the first SCI Retreat hearing told us all we needed to know. This process has been a sham from the beginning. And it’s a dangerous one because it puts money over public safety,” said Larry Blackwell, President Pa State Corrections Association.

Blackwell is concerned about overcrowding at other state prisons and now they will have to handle the inmates from SCI Retreat. Governor Wolf will have the final decision on the fate of SCI Retreat. His spokesperson tells Eyewitness News he will review the report and make a decision in the near future.

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