Prison questions, few answers
I, like many of you, was stunned by the recent announcement of the state's plan to close prisons in Greensburg and Cresson.
Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said the “stabilization” of the state's prison population made these closures possible. Yet according to the Department of Corrections' own annualized report, Pennsylvania's prisons added 5,000 new inmates over the past decade. That's an increase of 42 percent. How can the department predict that the prison population will “stabilize” or decline in the coming years when recent history suggests it will, in fact, increase dramatically?
The DOC has been forced to take various actions to accommodate the growing prison population over the past several years. Housing inmates in county prisons, installing modular units at existing facilities and transferring inmates to other states are but a few of the methods used to cope with a seeming shortage of space. Are these or any other practices still being used to handle inmate population overflow and, if so, what is the justification for continuing these methods in light of the closure announcement?
SCI Greensburg and SCI Cresson employ nearly 1,000 people. Will there be jobs offered at nearby facilities with a reasonable commute, or will there be relocation assistance available to those families forced to uproot their lives and move great distances to keep their jobs? Will the people currently waiting on hiring lists be “bumped” from those lists? Has the department performed an analysis regarding the economic impact of job losses on the surrounding businesses, schools, local governments, etc.?
To this point the department has yet to show, in my estimation, any cause or good reason to close these institutions. There remain too many questions with too few answers. The individuals and families affected by this rushed, hasty decision deserve much better.
The writer is a state representative in the 52nd Legislative District.