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Employee transfers to State Correctional Institution at Benner Township begin

| Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

As state officials gathered in Centre County on Monday to ceremoniously open the $200 million, 2,000-inmate State Correctional Institution at Benner Township, the corrections department confirmed that employee transfers have begun from state prisons in Hempfield and Cresson.

“Some staff reported there a few weeks ago and another 100 of all classifications began there (Monday),” said Susan McNaughton, press secretary for the corrections department.

McNaughton noted that inmate transfers from SCI Greensburg and Cresson to the state-of-art facility have not begun. She anticipates those transfers will begin in mid-April.

Public tours at the state prison near Bellefonte began on Monday and will continue from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel announced in January that the state prisons in Westmoreland and Cambria counties would close by June 30 with the opening of Benner.

A contingent of state, county and local representatives from Westmoreland and Cambria, including state Sens. Kim Ward, a Westmoreland Republican, and John Wozniak, a Cambria Democrat, unsuccessfully attempted to stall the Western Pennsylvania prison closings to thwart the economic impact to both areas. Wetzel maintains it costs the state $110 a day to house an inmate in the Hempfield facility, while the cost at Benner will be $78 a day.

The closures are expected to save the state $23 million annually.

Ward estimated when the prison in Hempfield closes in June, eliminating 370 jobs, the local economy and municipal governments will lose an estimated $20 million in revenue.

The Hempfield lockup at one time housed as many as 1,000 male inmates, but its current population is about 800.

Cresson formerly housed about 1,400 prisoners but now has fewer than 1,000.

SCI Greensburg opened in 1969 after it was constructed as the Westmoreland County Jail in the 1960s.

Once the prison closes, the state Department of General Services will take control of the property and try to market it.

Ward said she plans to ask Gov. Tom Corbett to include money in his next budget to demolish the facility, located off Route 119. Without the demolition, she believes the property will be harder to market.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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