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Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary John Wetzel today announced a proposal to close the State Correctional Institution at Retreat, located in Luzerne County and housing 1,100 inmates. The facility employs approximately 400 individuals.
“The closure proposal is necessary due to the $140 million Fiscal Year 2019-2020 budget deficit. One of the most cost-effective ways to reduce the gap between the DOC’s budget allotment and anticipated expenditures is to close a prison,” Secretary Wetzel said.
The proposed closure of SCI Retreat is expected to save taxpayers $20 million this fiscal year and $40 million next fiscal year. In addition, the DOC would avoid costs associated with replacements of roofing, the bridge that leads to the facility, the boiler and security-related equipment.
No other state prisons are being considered for closure.
Under this proposal, Wetzel said that every SCI Retreat employee will be offered a position at a DOC facility. There are six facilities located within 65 miles of SCI Retreat – SCIs Coal Township, Dallas, Frackville, Mahanoy, Muncy and Waymart. Inmates will be transferred to other state prisons throughout the department.
“Gov. Wolf is committed to keeping these jobs in northeast Pennsylvania, and this commitment, along with efforts from the Departments of Economic Development and Labor & Industry, will help to mitigate any negative impacts from this closure,” Wetzel said. “I am proud of these employees and am guaranteeing that everyone will be offered a job in the northeast part of this state.”
Wetzel also said that during Fiscal Year 2018-19, the DOC experienced a significant decrease in its inmate population of nearly 1,900, which is the largest one-year decrease in the department’s history. In fact, the DOC’s June 2019 inmate population was 46,482, which is nearly 5,300 inmates lower than its highest-ever prison population, which was 51,757 in June 2012.
“We are confident that we can close this prison and still be under operational capacity,” Wetzel said.
According to DOC figures, male state prisons are operating at approximately 95.7 percent of capacity. Officials say that, even with the closing of SCI Retreat, the figure would only rise to approximately 98 percent of capacity.
“Prison closures are not a popular topic of discussion nor are they easy decisions to make,” Wetzel said. “However, when your agency and its employees have worked successfully year-after-year to streamline and improve operations, that work — coupled with fewer individuals being sent to state prison due to use of community diversionary programs — results in a population decline that makes it fiscally possible to safely reduce our correctional footprint.”
According to prison closure processes enacted through legislation (Act 133 of 2018), the DOC must first announce its intention to close a prison and then undergo a review process of at least three months before making a final determination on the proposed closure. During this three-month period, DOC officials will gather and review pertinent information about SCI Retreat, including but not limited to physical plant age and condition, cost to operate and options for staff. Also during this three-month period, the DOC will hold a public hearing in Luzerne County. That hearing is set for October 17. A formal notice of hearing — including the time and location – will be announced soon.
In addition to today’s announcement proposing the closure of SCI Retreat, Wetzel also announced:
- Closing the Sharon Community Corrections Center, which is located in Mercer County. A cost savings of $1.2 million is estimated. Individuals employed at this facility will be located elsewhere in the northwestern part of the DOC, and reentrants also will be housed elsewhere throughout the community corrections system.
- Discontinuing contracts with seven county prison facilities that provide either reentry and/or parole violator center services, at an estimated savings of approximately $8.8 million. Those counties are: Berks, Cambria, Chester, Clinton, Columbia, Lackawanna and Lawrence. These services will be provided using DOC facilities.
- Eliminating positions at the DOC’s Central Office and not back filling Central Office vacancies, which is expected to save another approximately $1.2 million.
Other planned cost-savings initiatives include a reduction in reentry service lots and combining mental health units at SCI Waymart.
Recently enacted cost-saving measures completed by the DOC include the closure of the outside service unit at SCI Phoenix and the closure of three out of four pods at SCI Huntingdon’s outside service unit.
Altogether, total cost reductions involving all DOC facilities and its Central Office are being estimated at $86 million.
“The DOC must continue to be a good steward of taxpayer money,” Wetzel said. “Again, all the improvements made to our system, combined with the consolidation with the Parole Board, allow us to make safety-conscience decisions that help to save taxpayer money at the same time. We continue to find ways to reduce our footprint while still providing for public safety.”