Chamber chief says group 'stunned' by Hempfield prison closing
By Richard Gazarik
Published: Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
The Central Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce president said when he and other members met last year with Secretary John Wetzel, he never hinted at Department of Corrections plans to close the state prison in Hempfield.
Chad Amond said the decision to close the prison has left “our business community stunned, disappointed and greatly concerned.”
Amond said Wetzel last year praised the staff at SCI Greensburg and called the prison a “community asset.”
“He had good things to say about the facility,” Amond said. “The closing was even a shocker to us.”
In a Jan. 17 letter to Wetzel, Amond asked the secretary to delay the closing because of the economic impact it will have on the employees, nearby businesses, the housing market and the local tax base.
The Chamber's criticism of how the corrections department handled the announcement followed a letter from three county legislators who leveled similar criticism at Wetzel.
Earlier this month, the secretary explained the decision before the Senate Judiciary Committee, citing substantial savings and a declining inmate population, and will appear next month before the House Judiciary Committee.
Wetzel and Deputy Secretary Shirley Moore Smeal met with Amond and Chamber board members at Wetzel's request, Amond said.
“Are we to believe the viability of SCI Greensburg degraded so substantially over the past year that it now requires complete closure when less than a year ago you were telling Westmoreland Chamber leaders that the facility was a community asset of which we should be proud?” Amond wrote. “Your comments in the board room and your recent actions are extraordinarily inconsistent.”
The corrections department did not respond to the letter, Amond said.
“They haven't even acknowledged that we sent it,” he added.
Spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said when Wetzel met with Chamber members on Feb. 16, 2012, “the closing of SCI Greensburg wasn't even on the horizon at that point, and at that point our inmate population was still on the rise.
“... We are reviewing all correspondence and working to respond specifically to each one, which will take some time,” she said.
The Hempfield facility and the state prison in Cresson will be shut down by June 30. More than 2,500 inmates will be transferred to new facilities in Centre County and SCI Pine Grove in Indiana County.
The SCI Greensburg closure will mean the loss of nearly 400 jobs and the possible relocation of guards, support staff and their families, Amond said. The Chamber hasn't been able to gauge the exact impact, but he estimates it will be “moderate to severe.”
“It should come as no surprise that losing nearly 400 jobs will most certainly create a negative ripple effect throughout Westmoreland County,” he wrote to Wetzel.
The state plans to send a task force to Cambria and Westmoreland counties to discuss the economic impact of the closings.
“That sounds like damage control,” Amond said. “A lot of the issues and questions being asked ... really could have been nipped in the bud if the DOC had made the community part of the process from the get-go.”
In his letter, Amond told Wetzel the closings would have been less controversial if business, community and political leaders had been informed in advance.
“By simply engaging Westmoreland County community leaders you would have given us the chance to begin an appropriate and thoughtful strategy to brace for the impact of the closure and to identify ways to lessen the impact it will present to our community,” he wrote.
McNaughton said the inspection for SCI Benner near State College was done Wednesday.
“There may be some small issues, but nothing that would substantially delay the moves,” she said. “There was a frozen pipe issue that has been fixed. We will reserve the right to follow up after final inspection since freezing temps won't be an issue, but it wouldn't prevent opening.”
Officials said they won't reveal details about the inmate transfers for security reasons.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at 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.
- Tax refund promise led Ligonier Valley High School teacher to second career as corgi breeder
- Latrobe hospital source of fuel spill
- Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg to be featured in TV series
- Greensburg woman accused of assaulting nurse in Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital
- Fuel spill discovered on Loyalhanna Creek
- Greensburg bishop’s time at helm draws to a close
- Opponents to try anew to fight parking lot planned at Ligonier Valley YMCA
- Jeannette to use grant to secure Monsour
- Delmont man’s next challenge is to compete in swim in chilly Finland river
- Unity woman loses appeal of DUI conviction