Pennsylvania to replace Graterford prison with new $400 million facility

 Aerial view of Graterford State Prison in Southeastern Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Chris Gardner)

Aerial view of Graterford State Prison in Southeastern Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Chris Gardner)

Construction has begun on a new state correctional facility in Pennsylvania that will replace the aging Graterford prison in Skippack Township.

The new prison in Skippack will include two complexes, called Phoenix I and II. It will feature a 200-bed female offenders unit as well as accommodation for death-row inmates. Both groups are currently bused to prisons across the state. The new housing units will also have air-conditioning, which is especially important for prisoners under treatment for mental illnesses.

With a price tag of $400 million, the new prison will be one of the most expensive facilities the state has ever built—second only to the Philadelphia Convention Center.

Graterford Prison was built just before the Great Depression to replace Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary. Now the worn out Graterford is becoming increasingly difficult to operate.

“We had a lot of maintenance issues with a prison that was built in 1929,” said Graterford Superintendent Michael Wenerowicz. For instance the toilets are inefficient, “Flushing a toilet takes up 4 gallons of water, versus the 1.2 gallons it will have at the new institution,” he said.

Basing the new facility in Skippack Township was an easy choice because the State already owned the land. While local residents had little say in the decision, Skippack Vice Chair William Parkins said the state did make some accommodations including the addition of a large earth berm around around the new prison. “So you’re not looking at it all the time,” Parkins said.

Once the new facility is completed in 2015, the Graterford inmates will be transferred, and according to Wenerowicz, the state plans to keep the Graterford building rather than demolish it. However, the state has yet to decide how or whether it will use the old facility.

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