Pennsylvania Plans to Close Two Prisons This Year

After a drop in the inmate population, officials promise to shut down two correctional facilities.

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Pennsylvania will close two prisons by June 30th, according to a press release from the state’s Department of Corrections.

“We have implemented a variety of cost-savings initiatives over the past several years, yet we are again in the position where the Department of Corrections must make significant reductions because of the dire budget forecast,” Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said in a release. “The most significant reduction we can make as an agency is a prison closure.”

Five prisons are on the short list for closure, none close to the city: SCI Mercer in Mercer County, SCI Retreat in Luzerne County and SCI Frackville in Schuylkill County, SCI Waymart in Wayne County, and SCI Pittsburgh in Allegheny County. (Frackville, about two-and-a-half hours from Philadelphia, is the closest.)

In a statement, Wetzel said every employee affected by the closures at whichever two prisons are closed will be offered jobs at other correctional facilities in the state.

“Our commonwealth faces a serious budget deficit that means we have limited funds to provide the services the people of Pennsylvania expect from their government and we must make government more efficient to avoid broad cuts to education, job creation programs and social services for the most vulnerable,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a release. “DOC believes we are able to close prisons without security risk because of the historic reduction in the inmate population and crime is down.” Wolf also said he believes investing in schools and programs that reduce recidivism are better ways to improve quality of life in the state.

Two of the prisons on the short list for closure, Pittsburgh and Waymart, offer specialized care. SCI Pittsburgh is a diagnostic and classification center for incoming inmates and provides special medical care. SCI Waymart serves inmates with mental health issues. “Transition of these services would be extremely difficult and the agency would incur significant additional costs,” the department said in a release.

Wetzel says the state can close prisons because of the recent reduction in the prison population. An additional 10,000 beds were also recently made available at the Camp Hill prison.

The Department of Corrections has set up an email account and phone number where inmate families, staff and others can ask for more info on the prison closures. The email address is ra-CRDOCClose@pa.gov and the phone number is 888-316-8950.

The state will announce which two prisons will be closed on January 26th.

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