Northeast PA lawmakers celebrate avoiding three potential state prison closures, but their future remains murky

Northeast PA lawmakers celebrate avoiding three potential state prison closures, but their future remains murky

Author: Jason Gottesman/Thursday, January 26, 2017/Categories: News and Views

Northeastern Pennsylvania lawmakers were rejoicing Thursday over the fact that all three of the region’s state prisons that were slated for potential closure will remain open.


The three that might have closed were SCI Waymart, SCI Retreat, and SCI Frackville.


The Department of Corrections announced earlier in the day that SCI Mercer would also remain open, but SCI Pittsburgh would be mothballed in a move anticipated to save the Commonwealth $81 million in the coming fiscal year.


“I am proud that the people of Luzerne County have demonstrated once again that we stand strong and united to protect jobs and protect our community,” said Senator John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), who was a vocal proponent of keeping SCI Retreat open.


“I am convinced now, more than ever, that Pennsylvania must reform its protocol for closing prison facilities. However, I must thank the Wolf Administration and the Department of Corrections for listening to our case and ultimately, making the right call that SCI-Retreat should remain open.”


Sen. Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill) also applauded the decision with respect to SCI Frackville and added he will work with the department in the hopes of expanding the state prison’s operations.


“We agree with the Department of Corrections – the facts prove that SCI Frackville is an efficient institution,” Sen. Argall said. “We believe this facility should be expanded; not eliminated. We will be very proactive on this front. In the next two weeks we will convene a series of meetings in Schuylkill County and at the Capitol with one goal in mind: further improving SCI Frackville and SCI Mahanoy so that in the future, neither local prison is on any list to be closed."


In the House, Rep. Mike Tobash (R-Schuylkill) noted he was happy to see SCI Frackville remain open.


“SCI Frackville is a highly performing facility and an asset to our community,” he said. “This decision represents fiscal responsibility, as well as good news for our region.”


Newly elected to House leadership, Rep. Kurt Masser (R-Northumberland) also applauded the decision.


“The decision to keep SCI Frackville open is a good one,” he said. “Ensuring public safety is one of government’s most core and essential services, and this facility and its employees have done nothing but exemplary work.”


With respect to SCI Waymart, Sen. Joh Blake (D-Lackawanna) noted his pleasure with the decision to keep the facility open.


"I am relieved and encouraged that SCI Waymart was spared the fate of being closed by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. This means, for the immediate future, that over 700 jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of economic impact will not be lost in Northeastern Pennsylvania," he said.


"Further, the specialized services and mental health treatment sorely needed within our state's Corrections system will be maintained at Waymart.”

With regard to SCI Mercer, which is in the northwestern part of the Commonwealth, Rep. Mark Longietti (D-Mercer) praised keeping the facility open.

"The community dodged a major bullet this morning," he said. "I believe the community's united stand in presenting our case made a real difference."


Despite their joy Thursday, Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said the prisons surviving the current DOC decision—and others—might be on the list for future closures.


"If you look around the country you’re seeing this all over the place. The trends suggest both prison population is down and crime is down. This is kind of the new normal. I think every budget there is going to be scrutiny about whether we’re at a place to safely close another prison," he said Thursday in Pittsburgh.


"There may be some that drop off and some that add on [the list of potential closures] but certainly while I’m sure they’re breathing a sigh of relief, they have to understand the times we’re in."

Pittsburgh Bureau Chief Alanna Koll contributed to this story.