Two state prisons in western Pennsylvania will be closed by the end of June in an effort to save up to $23 million.
The displaced inmates will be moved to a brand-new prison in Centre County that has been vacant for months and an empty unit in Indiana County.
Together, the two prisons due to close in Cresson, Cambria County, and Greensburg, Westmoreland County, employ about 870 people.
State Corrections Secretary John Wetzel says more than enough open positions exist throughout the department’s 27 prisons for them to find work.
“These 800 employees are generally going to be offered jobs elsewhere, so it’s not 800 employees are getting laid off,” he said. “It’s 800 employees are being moved to other facilities.
Wetzel says the age and design of the soon-to-be-shuttered prisons make them more expensive to operate, and the state’s declining inmate population means it only needs to maintain, not increase, its prison capacity.
But the state corrections officers union says the move needs more consideration.
It suggests the recent drop in prison populations may be temporary.
The last time the state closed a prison was in Pittsburgh in 2007, and it reopened in 2009. Wetzel says the same won’t happen this time.
“We have no intention of reopening these facilities. Old facilities do not meet our needs. We started early on with saying, we’re going to replace old capacity with new capacity,” he said. “It’s more efficient, it’s safer, it’s better to operate, and it meets our needs.”
But Wetzel acknowledges the anticipated savings of $23 million next fiscal year could be diminished the longer it takes to sell the old prison facilities and find new positions for those now working in them.