Greensburg prison guards upset about state plan to pay $5.5M for maintenance, security at facilities being closed
By Brad Bumsted
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
HARRISBURG — The Department of Corrections plans to spend $5.5 million annually on two prisons it is closing and will issue contracts to private companies for their maintenance and security, the state corrections commissioner said Tuesday.
Corrections officers from Greensburg attending a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing gasped and groaned at the news. “To me it's totally disrespectful,” said Keith Graft, a corrections officer at SCI Greensburg, which along with SCI Cresson will close by June 30 under the department's plan. Graft and other officers also were upset because Corrections Secretary John Wetzel left the hearing after being the first person to testify. Officers believe the maintenance jobs should go to their co-workers who can't relocate and will lose their state jobs.
Wetzel said later he plans to seek bids for the contracted maintenance but will give the union an opportunity to make a counterproposal.
Employees were offered transfers to a new prison in Benner Township, Centre County, and SCI Pine Grove in Indiana County, the department said.
The closures affect about 800 workers. The department required them to request transfers to the other prisons by the end of the day Tuesday.
The state is closing the older prisons to cut costs as the new one opens in Centre County. Wetzel said the moves will save $23 million in the 2013-14 budget. It comes as prison populations shrink, he said.
Wetzel said the state will make every effort to sell the closed prisons but acknowledged it could take years.
For some, the closures could mean moving their families.
Lance Burkholder of Mt. Pleasant, president of the local corrections officers' union, said he hopes to transfer to SCI Laurel Highlands, which is about a 50-mile round-trip for him. If he can't get into Laurel Highlands, where he began his career, “I'll be forced to uproot my family and move to another county.” Burkholder, just 40, can't retire yet.
Wetzel ran into a cross-fire of questions and criticism from senators of both parties. He accepted responsibility for botching notification of the closures, which the media learned about hours before employees did.
“Everybody is shell-shocked. Everybody is angry,” said Ray Pinto, state president of the officers' union.
Senators asked for a delay so employees have more time to get their affairs in order.
Wetzel said he would consider it. His spokeswoman said he could delay either the closures or employees' deadline to decide about whether to accept transfers.
Wetzel said in response to questioning from Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, that the decision to close the prisons came in December.
“I just think the way the employees were treated was terrible,” Ward said.
Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Landslides put Baldwin firefighters in financial peril
- Population expansion in Western Pennsylvania hinges on immigrants
- Change in kidney allocation rules should help patients
- Catholic learning sessions to start in Pittsburgh
- Bullied South Fayette student’s case prompts wiretap overhaul legislation
- Officials identify Chartiers shooting victim as Wilkinsburg man
- South Fayette parents express dissatisfaction with handling of bullying
- Bethel Park man to receive degree from Pitt he earned 64 years ago
- Film tax credits bill would bump up state budget
- Newsmaker: James Lange
- Pope Francis inspires incredible optimism