HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA/AP) – A state senator says the Wolf administration plans to close Pittsburgh State Prison to save money at a time when inmate numbers are dropping.
Sen. Wayne Fontana tells The Associated Press that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf disclosed during a Thursday morning phone call that Pittsburgh was slated for closure.
“I’m very disappointed in the Department of Corrections decision — as well as the hasty and flawed process it used to make its decision,” Fontana said in a statement.
The administration had previously said it was considering closing two prisons, but Fontana says the final decision was to shutter just one.
“In its rush to close SCI-Pittsburgh, the department largely ignored community input, the plight of local prison workers and the impact that this closing will have on our region’s economy. It’s important to emphasize that the department refused to hold or take part in a local hearing to respond to citizens’ questions and concerns. I will continue to push for my legislation to require public hearings in order to make this right for workers, families and communities who have to go through this process in the future,” Fontana said.
The number of state inmates has fallen by 2,400 since mid-2012.
“Prison population is declining and that is a good thing because it means criminal justice reforms are working. We must continue to pursue smart reforms that reduces the burden on taxpayers and protect our investments in education and drug treatment to keep people out of prison where we will spend $40,000 each to house, feed and care them,” Gov. Wolf said in a statement.
State officials had announced earlier this month that five prisons were among those that could close.
At that time, they said closing Pittsburgh posed a challenge because it serves as a diagnostic and classification center, as well as housing medical services such as a cancer treatment unit.
“I want to thank all Pennsylvanians who provided input during our deliberation. This decision will allow us to save taxpayers approximately $80 million while minimizing the impact on staff and local communities. My administration will work diligently with Sen. Fontana, Rep. Wheatley and local leaders in Allegheny County to implement a plan to find a new use for the SCI Pittsburgh location,” Gov. Wolf said.
News of the closure hit prison employees hard as corrections officers like Dan Daley learned they’ll have to move to some other institutions to keep their jobs.
“It’s disappointing,” Daley said. “Disappointing. This is home. We all like it here. We tried really hard to make everything work, and the institution ran very nicely.”
“There is a significant impact on staff and the inmates, and we don’t take that lightly,” PA Department of Corrections secretary John Wetzel said.
The state says the site could be shuttered, razed and redeveloped more readily than four other prison sites on the shortlist for closure.
“We’re talking about riverfront property,” Wetzel said. “We’re talking about an area that’s really growing, and out of the five areas, we’re talking about the area with the lowest unemployment rate.”
Fontana, however, says he plans to hold the state’s feet to the fire.
“If you’re closing to close it, if you’re going to knock it down, there’s 24 acres down there. We just don’t want it to sit there,” Fontana said. “How fast are you going to put a plan together to put that 24 acres back on the tax rolls?”
There are no definitive plans for redeveloping the site yet.
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