HARRISBURG -- Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said this morning that his agency will close two state prisons, one in Greensburg and the other in Cambria County, and replace them with a newly built facility in Centre County.
Replacing the older prisons will save $23 million next year and more in years to come, Mr. Wetzel said. The agency plans to close the two facilities, which he described as costly and inefficient, by June 30.
Mr. Wetzel said the stabilization of the prison population -- it declined by 454 inmates last year, the largest annual drop in 40 years -- assured the administration it will not need to reconsider the closures.
Between 700 vacancies throughout the corrections system and 564 workers needed in the new prison, in Benner Township, Mr. Wetzel said there are more corrections openings than the 870 jobs to be lost at the prisons in Greensburg and in Cresson, Cambria County. But he acknowledged the closures would present a hardship to workers rooted in their communities.
Many of the 1,400 inmates at the Cambria prison and 1,000 at Greensburg will be transferred to Benner, which has the capacity for more than 2,000 inmates, while others will move to a new, 300-bed housing unit at the prison in Pine Grove, Indiana County.
Roy Pinto, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, said the union is ready to work with the Corbett administration to find savings. But he questioned the basis for the decision.
"This decision is based on a mammoth assumption that Pennsylvania's prison population will steadily decline after decades of increases," Mr. Pinto said in a statement. "Despite statements by the department of a declining prison population, the prison population has only experienced an annual decline three times in the last four decades.
"If these prisons are closed, the only thing certain is it will hurt thousands of families and devastate the local economies in those areas," he said.
Karen Langley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-2141.