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Closure of two prisons to save PA $23 million next year without layoffs

By   /   January 9, 2013  /   No Comments

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania will save an estimated $23 million next fiscal year with the closure of two older state prisons and the opening of a new facility.

Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel announced Wednesday that state prisons in Cresson, Cambria County, and Greensburg, Westmoreland County, would be shuttered by the end of June. The two facilities will be replaced with a new state prison scheduled to open at Brenner Township in Centre County.

WETZEL: Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said the state will save $23 million from the closure of two older prisons and the opening of a newer facility

Staff and inmates at the two prisons targeted for closure will be transferred to the other 25 existing facilities in the state system and to the new prison, Wetzel said. No layoffs are expected.

This move isn’t just a financial move,” Wetzel said. “It’s also an improvement to the facilities and it’s a safer, more secure operation.

The Cresson facility opened in 1913 and costs an average of $103 per inmate per day to operate.  The Greensburg facility opened in 1969 and costs an average of $110 per inmate per day to operate, the highest per diem cost within the state corrections system.

By comparison, the new prison in Brenner Township will cost an estimated $85 per inmate per day.

The department recently announced 450 fewer inmates during 2012, only the third time in four decades that the system has seen a decline in population.

Wetzel said that decrease figured into the decision to close the two older facilities as the new prison was brought online.

This is a responsible, conservative plan to replace capacity at a time when our population is trending down,” Wetzel said.

Corrections Department staff was meeting on Wednesday morning with heads of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, the union representing the 9,500 workers in the state prison system.

Roy Pinto, president of the PSCOA, said in a statement the union was ready to work with the state, but expressed concern that the closures were premature.

“This decision is based on a mammoth assumption that Pennsylvania’s prison population will steadily decline after decades of increases,” he said. “If these prisons are closed, the only thing certain is it will hurt thousands of families and devastate the local economies in those areas.”

There are roughly 2,200 inmates and 800 staff at the two facilities to be closed, while the new prison in Centre County will house about 2,000 inmates and will require about 500 staff.

There are another 700 open positions in the state system, the result of a hiring freeze implemented last year, Wetzel said, enough to reshuffle staff without requiring layoffs.

The closures are the first since the state shuttered SCI Pittsburgh in 2007. That facility was later re-opened in 2009.

The two closed facilities will cost about $5 million annually in maintenance and upkeep.

Contact Boehm at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter.

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Eric is a reporter for Watchdog.org and former bureau chief for Pennsylvania Independent. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he enjoys great weather and low taxes while writing about state governments, pensions, labor issues and economic/civil liberty. Previously, he worked for more than three years in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, covering Pennsylvania state politics and occasionally sneaking across the border to Delaware to buy six-packs of beer. He has also lived (in order of desirability) in Brussels, Belgium, Pennsburg, Pa., Fairfield, Conn., and Rochester, N.Y. His work has appeared in Reason Magazine, National Review Online, The Freeman Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Examiner and elsewhere. He received a bachelor's degree from Fairfield University in 2009, but he refuses to hang on his wall until his student loans are fully paid off sometime in the mid-2020s. When he steps away from the computer, he enjoys drinking craft beers in classy bars, cheering for an eclectic mix of favorite sports teams (mostly based in Philadelphia) and traveling to new places.

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