Round 2 in the fight to save SCI Retreat

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(WBRE/WYOU) — Some are calling it the fight to save SCI Retreat Round 2.

The state has scheduled a second public hearing regarding the proposed closure of the state prison in Luzerne County. This hearing came about after controversial remarks by John Wetzel, the secretary of the department of corrections, were caught on an open mic at the first public hearing.

Wetzel has since apologized for those comments in which he basically indicated he was only going through the motions. That second public hearing is set for November 21st at the Nanticoke Municipal Building, but community leaders Eyewitness News spoke with say they don’t trust the powers that be in Harrisburg.

“Well, my initial reaction Andy was that credibility is earned by the ounce but lost by the ton,” Newport Township manager Peter Wanchisen said.

Wanchisen says the state department of corrections lost its credibility when Secretary Wetzel said this on an open mic at a hearing on October 17th: “You know what? This does suck. I wish I didn’t have to close this (expletive). It is what it is.”

Wetzel has since apologized for those comments and was removed by Governor Tom Wolf from the decision-making process. The DOC announced plans to close SCI Retreat last summer, saying it would save taxpayers millions of dollars.

It would mean the loss of 400 jobs in Luzerne County. The 1,200 inmates would be sent to other state prisons. The hearing was mandated by Act 133 to allow communities to state their case as to why the prison should remain open.

“The facts were on the table and he point-blank came out with the statement I’m here because I have to. I have to pretend that I’m interested. That was a falsehood. That’s going to be a very tall mountain to climb,” Wanchisen said.

When asked if he thought this would be taking place had the hot mic incident not happened, Senator John Yudichak responded with “They would not.”

Yudichak says that incident should be a learning lesson for the DOC.

“The Department of Corrections fumbled the ball. Now they are doubling down and making sure that the voices of the people of Luzerne County, the voices of the people who are in the footprint of SCI Retreat, those that have worked there and the families that will be impacted, will be heard,” Yudichak said.

A spokesperson for Governor Wolf tells Eyewitness News that he looks forward to getting more input from local residents, employees, and lawmakers before making a final decision on the closure of SCI Retreat.

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