Pa. governor to follow through on plan to close state prison

State Correctional Institution – Retreat in Hunlock Creek, Pa. (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections)

State Correctional Institution – Retreat in Hunlock Creek, Pa. (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections)

Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday that he will follow through on his plan to close another state prison, announced originally in August as a cost-cutting step amid a declining inmate population and rising prison costs.

Wolf’s administration carried out the required hearings on its plan, which was criticized by the corrections’ officers union and state lawmakers whose districts surround Retreat state prison in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Retreat, about 10 miles west of Wilkes-Barre, has about 400 employees and about 940 inmates. Closing could occur in four months at an annual savings of $40 million, the administration said.

Employees will be offered jobs at another state prison within 65 miles of Retreat, it said.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Retreat was particularly vulnerable to closing: Its original buildings date back to the 19th century and it has the fewest beds of any of Pennsylvania’s 25 state prisons. The Department of Corrections lists its bed capacity at 97% as of Dec. 31, although it also lists 10 state prisons as having more inmates than their operational bed capacities.

Wolf’s administration said last year that it needed to close a $140 million deficit in the prisons budget. Pennsylvania’s prisons cost $2 billion to operate, a cost that rises almost every year in a $34 billion state government operating budget.

Pennsylvania’s state prison population is about 46,000, not including those in halfway houses, after it reached nearly 52,000 in 2012. Wolf’s administration also closed a state prison in Pittsburgh in 2017.

The Department of Corrections has said the inmate count is dropping because courts are sentencing fewer defendants to prison and because a 2012 law put limits on the length of a prison stay for a parole violator.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal