Over 2,600 inmates at an 89-year-old Pennsylvania prison are being transferred to a new, long-delayed facility about a mile down the road.
The first phase of transfers began just after 9 a.m. Wednesday from the state prison at Graterford to the sprawling, $400 million complex at SCI Phoenix, according to a statement from the Department of Corrections.
Several hundred inmates will be moved each day, for however long it takes to complete the operation, officials said. They didn’t add how long they expected the move to take. On Wednesday, most were moved by van.
“Employees and inmates have been waiting patiently for this move to take place,” Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said in the statement. “We are aware of the anxiety that this move has caused everyone, and we have worked diligently to plan for every aspect and to ensure that the transition is smooth for everyone involved.”
Among those being moved are 20 death row inmates. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf imposed a moratorium on executions shortly after taking office in 2015.
The roads between the facilities, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia, are closed to the public during the transfer, said spokeswoman Amy Worden.
The new prison was supposed to open in 2015 but design changes, contractor lawsuits and other issues caused delays.
It can house about 3,830 male inmates. They will have larger cells, but most are doubles, unlike at Graterford.
It also has a separate, 192-bed female transition unit outside the perimeter, and is to focus on re-entry and family reunification for female inmates returning to southeastern Pennsylvania. Nearly 1/3 the state’s female inmates are from Philadelphia and surrounding counties.
Pennsylvania has 25 state prisons after closing three in the last five years.