State to close prisons in Hempfield, Cambria County
The state Department of Corrections will close the state prison in Hempfield and another in Cambria County, and move the inmates to a new, $200 million facility in Centre County, according to local lawmakers.
State Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, said Tuesday afternoon that she was “blindsided” by the announcement, which sent a shock through county government and the prison staff.
“I received a telephone call from a corrections official in the (Gov. Tom Corbett) administration about 2:45 p.m. that they intend to announce the plans Wednesday. I can say that not one person has talked to me before about this. ... I had no inkling it was coming,” Ward said.
The corrections department plans to open the 2,000-bed Benner State Prison in Centre County, built a year ago, and transfer the inmates from SCI-Greensburg, located off Route 119, and Cresson State Prison in Cambria County, which have the highest vacancy rates in the system.
Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said he will make the formal announcement at 2 p.m. Wednesday in Harrisburg.
The Greensburg prison employs more than 400, including support staff, maintenance and dietary workers, counselors and unit managers.
Roy Pinto, state president of the Pennsylvania State Correction Officers Association, said he had not been informed of the closing.
“If this is the case, the PSCOA was not consulted and will look at all options. Such closings will hurt thousands of families and devastate the local economy in those areas,” Pinto said.
About 250 belong to the local union, said Lance Burkholder, president at SCI-Greensburg. He declined further comment until he hears the news officially.
“They told me it will save money, but they haven't said where it will save money,” Ward said. “I intend to call for hearings on the closures, because the public transparency was just not out there on this.”
State Rep. Tim Krieger, R-Delmont, said he was driving back from Harrisburg on Tuesday when he got the news.
“I'm absolutely blindsided,” he said. “I don't understand why the decision was made. I don't know who made the decision. I wasn't consulted about it. It's hard to understand why we build prisons in Centre County that we don't need.”
Krieger said the job loss is “very significant. I want some answers.”
SCI Greensburg, a medium security facility for men, housed 988 inmates on Dec. 31, according to the corrections department.
The 1,143-bed prison is the fourth smallest in the state system, larger only than general population state prisons in Crawford and Schuylkill counties and Pine Grove, a facility for young offenders in Indiana County.
Greensburg was 86.4 percent occupied in December, the largest vacancy rate in the state. The 1,563-capacity Cresson prison ranked second with an 89.3 vacancy rate.
By comparison, the state prison in Fayette County had more than 2,000 inmates and was 13 percent over capacity last month while the Pittsburgh facility housed 1,633, just 90 percent of capacity.
Westmoreland officials are concerned by the financial impact on the county.
“I certainly would like to keep it open and I'll do whatever we can do to make it happen,” said commission Chairman Charles Anderson. “If they go forward with this, it will have an impact on jobs and our economy.”
Commissioner Ted Kopas said the state gathered no local input.
“The way we're being notified is ridiculous and insulting. Hopefully, we have an opportunity to appeal this. I hope it is not final,” Kopas said.
The closing could be costly for county corrections operations, because state inmates are transported from the Greensburg prison to the courthouse for hearings. Sheriff Jonathan Held said deputies will have to drive to Pittsburgh or Fayette County to transport inmates with court dates in Greensburg.
“We do that fairly frequently. It's going to impact our man hours and our mileage costs,” Held said.
The facility was built on 130 acres in 1966 as the Westmoreland County Prison. The state acquired it in 1969 and converted it for use as the state's first regional correctional facility to serve a nine-county area of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Doug Weimer, chairman of the Hempfield supervisors, said the township stands to lose tax revenue as well as jobs.
“This job loss will not be easy to overcome. I'm shocked like everybody else and want to know what the state has in mind for the future,” he said. “These are good-paying jobs. They contributed to local service taxes.”
Weimer said he's not sure how much Earned Income Tax revenue the township could lose.
“We didn't prepare for this in our budget this year,” he said. “This is a loss of a lot of jobs and a lot of revenue.”
A former prison is not like a closed manufacturing center, he added.
“It's a unique site. It's not like Sony moving out and the state putting different industries in there,” Weimer said.
Department of Corrections officials in Harrisburg could not be reached for comment.
Staff writer Richard Gazarik contributed to this story. Rich Cholodofsky and Paul Peirce are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Cholodofsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Peirce can be reached at email@example.com.
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.
- Jeannette company’s miniature steam engines coveted for decades
- Westmoreland County furloughs weights and measurements director
- Police gather in Ligonier for Perryopolis officer’s funeral
- United Way surplus funds benefit 9 nonprofits in Westmoreland County
- Penn Township man who shot friend gets probation
- 11 Westmoreland inmates accused of setting fire put in solitary confinement
- Hempfield leaders kill zoning request for townhomes
- Plenty of ‘pain’ to share, as Westmoreland County budget OK’d with $8M in cuts
- Home of LeNature’s exec up for sale
- Demolition project at Oliver’s Pourhouse in Greensburg moves ahead
- Police: Deer rifle in vehicle at Southmoreland High School