State prison at Retreat could close
Pennsylvania, which has shuttered state prisons in Hempfield, Pittsburgh and Cresson over the last six years, may be on the verge of closing yet another massive state lock-up.
Faced with a $140 million budget deficit and declining prison population, Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel has proposed closing the State Correctional Institution at Retreat — a 1,100 bed prison located in Luzerne County, about 10 miles from Wilkes-Barre.
“One of the most cost-effective ways to reduce the gap between the DOC’s budget allotment and anticipated expenditures is to close a prison,” Wetzel said in a statement announcing the proposal.
It comes two years after the closing of SCI Pittsburgh and six years after the state shuttered sprawling state prisons in Hempfield, Westmoreland County, and Cresson, Cambria County.
After decades of exponential growth, Pennsylvania’s prison population declined from 51,757 in June 2012 to 46,482 in June 2019. Wetzel said the prison population declined by nearly 1,900 last year, the largest decline in state history.
“We are confident that we can close this prison and still be under operational capacity,” he said.
Wetzel said the 400 employees at the facility would be offered jobs at other state prisons within 65 miles of Retreat should the proposed closing be approved.
The proposed prison closing, which was projected to save $20 million this year and another $40 million next year, was part of a larger package of spending reductions in the prison system designed to reduce the budget deficit by $86 million.
The announcement marked the beginning of a lengthy process that could continue through the end of the year.
State law requires a minimum three month review of any such proposal before a final determination is reached. On Oct. 17, state officials will hold a public hearing on the proposal in Luzerne County.
Although prison closings in Greensburg and Cresson were met with opposition in the community, both facilities were shuttered and later sold to private developers.
If approved, the closing of Retreat would mark the first prison closing in eastern Pennsylvania in recent years.
Although the Department of Corrections closed SCI Graterford outside of Philadelphia in 2018, it was replaced by a new facility. SCI Phoenix was built on the grounds of Graterford and opened concurrently with the old prison’s closing.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .