Union chief: Order was to not question numbers
The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman warned the union representing corrections officers at state prisons in Westmoreland and Cambria counties not to quiz Corrections Secretary John Wetzel about cost savings or inmate population when he testifies before the committee next week in Harrisburg, the union's president said.
Roy Pinto of the Pennsylvania Correction Officers Association said committee Chairman Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery/Bucks, passed along the warning through the union's lobbyists in Harrisburg.
“It came from the chairman of the committee,” Pinto said. “They're playing with the numbers. We were told, ‘Don't question the numbers.'”
Greenleaf called Pinto's charge “absolutely not true. Members are encouraged to ask any question. That's the purpose of the hearing.”
“The DOC is prepared to answer whatever questions are asked,” said spokeswoman Susan McNaughton.
Greg Warner, counsel to the Judiciary Committee, said he talked to the union lobbyist but never told him to “go easy” on Wetzel.
“Something may have gotten lost in the translation,” Warner said.
Union officials will testify at the hearing.
Pinto has disputed the $23 million in savings that Wetzel estimates the state will realize by closing the two prisons and opening a new facility in Centre County, SCI Benner. He questions how the department determined that the cost of housing inmates differs between prisons.
“They just add stuff to drive up that number,” Pinto said.
Sens. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield and John Wozniak, D-Johnstown, whose districts include the prisons, will be part of the committee questioning Wetzel Tuesday, along with officials of the Pennsylvania Correction Officers Association. Ward demanded the hearing last week after the state announced the closings with no advance warning to lawmakers, who are angry with the Corbett administration over the secrecy surrounding the decision.
Ward said she is concerned about the impact on corrections officers and other employees, who may have to relocate when the prison closes.
She pointed out that 50 corrections officers who served in the military obtained home mortgage assistance after they were assigned to SCI Greensburg. They may have to repay the money if they need to move, she said.
“They have to pick up and move their families,” Ward said. “The state is doing stuff without thinking of the consequences.”
Ward doesn't understand the rush to close Greensburg by June 30.
“When they closed SCI Pittsburgh, it took them two years,” she said. “What's behind this? There's no transparency at all.”
The state closed the Pittsburgh prison, known as Western Pen, in 2005 but reopened it two years later.
If Ward isn't satisfied with the answers at Tuesday's hearing, she may hold another hearing in Greensburg, she said. As chairwoman of the Committee on Economic and Recreational Development, she could explore the economic impact of closing SCI Greensburg on the area's economy.
“If we don't get the answers we want, there will be another hearing,” she said.
Wozniak, whose district includes part of Centre County, said the shift of inmates to Benner Township doesn't make sense because the $200 million prison is located in a high-income region with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state.
“Prisons historically have been placed areas of high unemployment,” Wozniak said. “Cambria County is a prime example of Appalachia.”
When SCI Cresson was opened, the borough built a sewage treatment plant to handle waste from the institution. The closing means the borough's 1,700 residents will have to pay higher sewage bills to make up for the revenue loss, Wozniak said.
“There's no cost savings to Cresson,” he said.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292.
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.
- Traveling amateur organists entertain fellow seniors with oldies music
- Westmoreland County municipalities push to clean up litter, dumps
- Route 217 bridge work about to start in Derry Borough
- ‘Doc Hope’ eases into retirement from West Newton veterinary clinic
- Hempfield man dies in single-vehicle accident
- Spirit Airlines lifts fortunes of Arnold Palmer Regional Airport
- Seton Hill student tells how Pa. Gov. Wolf’s tax plan will hurt her
- 2 Hempfield Area students charged with sexting
- Land costs for New Stanton turnpike interchange project reach $4.2M
- Mistaken identity leads to drug bust at Westmoreland County Courthouse
- Murrysville woman apologizes for scholarship fund theft