Reaction to news of DOC’s recommendation to close SCI Retreat

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(WBRE/WYOU) — Reaction is being heard across the region Wednesday night to word that the state Department of Corrections recommends closing SCI Retreat in Luzerne County.

This decision has people talking, especially business owners and officials from communities near the prison. They say this news is devastating.

“That’s horrible. Guys and ladies losing their jobs and we are losing our business,” Food Express manager Sonja Sprague said.

Sprague manages the Food Express in Shickshinny. She says SCI Retreat employees come here every day.

“A lot of guys come in here, ladies come in here. They’ve been our loyal customers for the year so it’s horrible for them and for us,” Sprague said.

The state DOC says it must close SCI Retreat. It cites several reasons for the closure: a declining inmate population statewide, a big deficit in its budget, and the fact it would take some $20 million to bring the aging facility up to date.

The prison is located in Newport Township, which would lose tens of thousands of dollars in tax revenues. Officials here are not holding their breath when it comes to keeping SCI Retreat open. They believe an open mic comment made by DOC Secretary John Wetzel at a public hearing in November says it all.

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

“I wish there was. I wish I could be positive as far as the board is concerned we feel no hope,” Newport Township Commissioner John Zyla said.

“Very slim hope. Just in the past, they had meetings. We had hope but very slim hope it stays open,” business manager Joseph Hillon said.

Jim Bach is president of the Shickshinny Business Association. He fears what will happen to ratepayers of the Shickshinny Sewer Authority which installed a new sewer line for the prison several years ago.

“So who’s going to be responsible for that line since it is not going to be used? It cracks and breaks. Lots of money is being wasted and stuff,” Bach said.

Lawmakers tell Eyewitness News they will reach out to Governor Wolf in a last-gasp effort to keep SCI Retreat open. A spokesperson for the governor tells Eyewitness News he will review the DOC report and make a decision in the near future.

The 400 corrections officers at Retreat are being offered positions at other state prisons. But many of them tell Eyewitness News the commute to those prisons could be a challenge and as a result, they may leave the prison system.

The president of the union that represents those corrections officers says he’s concerned about overcrowding and safety at the prisons that will take the 1,200 inmates from SCI.

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