Pa. to close 2 prisons, open new one

January 9, 2013

HARRISBURG (AP) – The state Department of Corrections is planning to close Greensburg and Cresson state prisons in Western Pennsylvania and open a newly built facility near State College that has remained vacant since it was completed a year ago, lawmakers told the Associated Press Tuesday.

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel planned to make the announcement publicly today, and a department spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter. Lawmakers were briefed on the plans Tuesday.

Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria, said a member of Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration told him the move is being made to control costs at older prisons. Most prisoners will move to Benner State Prison, while employees at the Greensburg and Cresson prisons will be offered jobs at other state prisons within 50 miles, he said.

“I can understand the dating of building and structures, but my concern is for people and their families,” said Wozniak, whose district includes Cresson. “These are corrections officers. These people have families and high-stress jobs. I’d like to see these people taken care of.”

Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said she would call for hearings on the move, which she criticized as lacking transparency.

“I’m going to do whatever I can do to get answers and make sure the process is open and understand why this decision was made, how they came to it,” Ward said.

The labor union that represents prison guards, the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, said it hadn’t been told about the plans.

“If this is the case, the PSCOA was not consulted and will look at all options,” union president Roy Pinto said in a statement. “Such closings will hurt thousands of families and devastate the local economies in those areas.”

Benner State Prison in Bellefonte cost nearly $200 million to build and can hold about 2,000 inmates.

Cresson became a state prison in 1987 but had been a state hospital before that and originally was opened in 1913 as a tuberculosis sanatorium, according to the Department of Corrections. It houses about 1,400 inmates. Greensburg originally was built in 1969 and houses 988 inmates, according to the department.

The state counts more than 51,000 inmates, including about 2,400 in county jails or community correctional centers. The state says it has beds for more than 48,000, but Pinto said the system was built to handle well below 40,000.



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