Pennsylvania to close two prisons as
budget shortfall looms
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[January 07, 2017]
By David DeKok
HARRISBURG (Reuters) - Pennsylvania will
close two state prisons by June 30 to help offset a projected $600
million revenue shortfall in this year's budget, state officials said on
Pennsylvania is also facing a $1.7 billion structural deficit next
fiscal year. Governor Tom Wolf, whose efforts to raise taxes have failed
since he took office in January 2015, has vowed to close the deficit
through cuts and savings.
"We must make government more efficient to avoid broad cuts to
education, job creation programs and social services for the most
vulnerable," Wolf said in a statement on Friday, explaining why he
"chose to invest in schools - not prisons."
Corrections officials said the affected employees, who will number
between 800 and 1,100 depending on which prisons are picked, will be
offered jobs at one of the 24 remaining prisons in the system.
The department will also cut in half the capacity of its halfway houses.
Despite cutting costs over the past several years, "We are again in the
position where the Department of Corrections must make significant
reductions because of the dire budget forecast," Corrections Secretary
John Wetzel said in a statement.
He said the candidates for potential closure had been narrowed to five
correctional institutions: SCI Frackville, SCI Mercer, SCI Retreat, SCI
Allegheny and SCI Waymart. The two selections will be announced on Jan.
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Closing the two most expensive prisons, SCI Allegheny in Pittsburgh
and SCI Waymart in the northeastern corner of the state, would save
a total $162 million per year, according to a Corrections Department
analysis document. Closing one of the other three would save $44
million to $46 million per year.
Waymart treats inmates with serious mental health problems, and
Allegheny provides specialty medical care, including an oncology
unit. Wetzel said closing them would present unique problems.
Pennsylvania's prisons are mainly located in rural areas and provide
Senator John Blake, a Democrat whose district includes Waymart,
vowed to fight any potential closure of the facility there because
of concerns over public safety and the potential loss of 700 jobs.
(Reporting by David DeKok in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Editing by
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