Officials vow to fight, with all options, closing of prison in Westmoreland
By Rich Cholodofsky and Paul Peirce
Published: Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Westmoreland County commissioners said Thursday they will exhaust all options to try to keep open the state prison in Hempfield.
“We're going to fight this with every fiber of our being,” Commissioner Charles Anderson said.
State officials announced this week that prisons in Westmoreland and Cambria counties will close and inmates will be relocated to a new, $200 million prison in Centre County slated to open later this year.
The state correctional institution in Hempfield, known as SCI Greensburg, is scheduled to be shut down by June 30.
Commissioner Ted Kopas said local officials will explore all avenues to convince state officials to change that decision.
“I wouldn't rule out a lawsuit, but it is the last preferred option,” Kopas said.
Local officials said they were blindsided when the state plans were disclosed Tuesday. By Wednesday, state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, convened Republican elected officials to discuss the planned closure.
Anderson said Thursday that a bipartisan effort, including Kopas and Democratic lawmakers Joe Petrarca of Oklahoma Borough and Ted Harhai of Monessen, will be needed to save the prison.
Ward has called for Senate hearings. County officials are seeking a detailed explanation from the state as to why the Westmoreland prison was targeted.
“We have to have data. We're in the fact-finding stage,” Commissioner Tyler Courtney said.
State officials have said the Westmoreland prison is one of the smallest and least utilized in the corrections system.
Westmoreland County sold the prison to the state in 1966.
Anderson suggested the county or a third party could buy back the property if the prison is closed.
Preliminary discussions have been held about other potential uses for the property, such as converting it for use as a treatment and custody center for drunken-driving defendants and state parole violators.
Officials said those suggestions will take a back seat while the county fights to keep open the prison, which employs about 400 and houses nearly 1,000 inmates.
Jason Rigone, executive director of the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp., said it is too early to assess the economic impact the closure could have on the region.
“It's literally only been just 36 hours since we received any notice of this. Because we were literally blindsided, we really haven't had an opportunity to assess the economic impact. But we will be gathering that information,” Rigone said.
Cambria County officials, who stand to lose the state prison in Cresson, are asking Gov. Tom Corbett for a 12-month moratorium on the decision. They asked Corbett to establish a commission to study the closings of prisons “in a nonpolitical” way.
Mark Pasquerilla, chairman of the Greater Johnstown Regional Partnership, wrote Corbett Wednesday pleading for the delay.
“Our region is extremely concerned to hear the disturbing news about your decision to close our State Correctional Institution (in) Cresson, Pennsylvania. We know there are other ways you can save this money in the state budget that will not have as devastating an impact on the Pennsylvania economy as closing this community economic engine in Cresson,” Pasquerilla wrote.
He is the chief executive of Crown American, a privately held company based in Johnstown that manages and develops commercial real estate.
Rich Cholodofsky and Paul Peirce are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Cholodofsky can be reached at 724-830-6293 or email@example.com. Peirce can be reached at 724-850-2860 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.
- Judge to Cook Township drug suspect: Get new friends
- Westmoreland man’s walk in Niagara Falls State Park wasn’t allowed, police say
- Homicide charge added in Derry death
- Murrysville police will get raises in 5-year pact
- Pittsburgh man charged with threat to witness
- Mt. Pleasant board to vote on contract with Volz
- Seismic testing concerns Greensburg resident
- Greensburg Salem raising funds for fitness equipment
- Commissioning of USS Somerset honors United Airlines Flight 93 heroes
- Greensburg woman publishes memoir of growing up in Fayette in ‘The Girl Factory’
- Ex-employee must repay mental health provider