Pittsburgh, Allegheny County – Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel today announced the Wolf Administration will close the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Pittsburgh by June 30, 2017. SCI-Frackville, along with SCI -Retreat in Luzerne County, SCI-Mercer in Mercer County, and SCI-Waymart in Wayne County, will remain open.
Closing SCI Pittsburgh by June 30, will enable the department to realize an estimated annual net savings of $81 million. The other four prisons under consideration will remain in operation.
“Closing an institution is a challenging process, and this decision, made in consultation with Governor Tom Wolf, only came after considering input from stakeholders and an extensive review of all of the institutions and took into consideration several factors including the age, size, location, programming, and economic impact on local communities,” said Wetzel. “While we initially felt that closing SCI Pittsburgh would present challenges for closure, upon review of the information, we feel confident that those challenges can be mitigated by relocating the services and specialized units to other facilities.”
Every employee of SCI Pittsburgh will be offered a job within DOC and that inmates will be relocated safely to appropriate facilities with available beds.
“With this announcement, we can focus on helping employees transition to other DOC facilities, relocating inmates within our system and beginning plans that enable the closure of this prison by the end of June,” said Wetzel. “The DOC is sending support staff to the facility to provide employees with resources and support services.”
On January 6, the DOC announced that it was evaluating five prisons with the intention of closing two facilities due to the historic reduction in the inmate population and anticipated budget deficit.
The other prisons under consideration were SCIs Frackville, Mercer, Retreat, and Waymart. After an extensive evaluation outlined below, the DOC made the decision to only close SCI Pittsburgh to minimize the impact to the staff, economy, and community, while still achieving necessary cost savings. Closing a larger institution like Pittsburgh made it possible to not close two smaller prisons to reach similar savings.
One of the key deciding factors was the relative strength of Allegheny County’s economy compared to other counties where prisons were also considered for closure. The robust business community in Pittsburgh combined with the site's location, near transportation infrastructure and the industrial corridor, is optimal for reuse and revitalization of the site.
The following specialty units at SCI Pittsburgh will be relocated to other institutions: a regional diagnostic and classification center, a mental health unit, multiple therapeutic communities (in which those with substance use disorder receive treatment), a veterans service unit, and the oncology unit. In addition, the hemophilia unit – which only impacts six inmates who require a hospital visit once a year – will be housed at another prison.
The Wolf Administration’s top priorities in this process were the safety of the public, DOC’s employees and the inmates committed to DOC’s custody. Wetzel said that his agency will be able to safely absorb relocated employees and inmates at its other existing state prisons.
Wetzel said the decrease in DOC’s inmate population over the past several years has resulted in more than 6,000 unused beds throughout the state prison system. The DOC has identified beds that will be brought back into operation throughout the system, with a majority of those being available at SCI Camp Hill.
Inmates will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and relocated throughout the system depending upon their custody levels and their treatment and medical needs.
After the closure of the state prisons in Westmoreland and Cambria counties in 2013, a protocol for prison closures was created, in consultation with the legislature, to improve notification and communication with employees, as well as state and local officials.
“Throughout this process transparency was vital, and we used the facility closure guidelines to ensure the process was more inclusive and efficient than the one used in 2013 when we closed SCIs Cresson and Greensburg,” Wetzel said.
Wetzel said that from the beginning of the facility closure process, a DOC committee was established to compile and analyze facility information and data about the five facilities – including their operating costs, physical plant, the unique programs they provide for inmates and the impact upon the local community, as well as employees’ travel times and proximity to other facilities.
The DOC also collaborated with other state agencies -- the Departments of Community and Economic Development (DCED), General Services, Human Services and Labor & Industry and the Office of Administration -- for input and assistance in the process.
The committee’s objective was clearly identifying and establishing a mission statement and objectives; conducting a cost-benefit data analysis; collaborating with the DCED and other agencies to determine economic and local impact; notifying legislators so they could provide input through calls, letters, meetings and petitions; notifying employees in a more timely manner; and posting information, including decisional documents, to the DOC’s website throughout the entire process.
“We worked extensively to gather the information in order to make the best decision in a timely and transparent fashion, all the while sensitive to the impact this will have on staff, inmates and communities,” Wetzel said.
This closure also impacts the regional office of the Bureau of Community Corrections and the Riverside Community Corrections Center – both of which operate out of the front building at SCI Pittsburgh. The regional office will be relocated, while the center will be closed. Center employees will be offered jobs within the DOC, and reentrants will be housed elsewhere in the community corrections system.
The second phase of DOC’s cost-saving process, which calls for the 50 percent reduction of community corrections contracted beds and contracted county jail beds, is in the planning process and will be completed by June 30, 2017.
Additionally, the DOC plans to reduce positions at the agency’s central office in Mechanicsburg by 10 percent.
SCI Pittsburgh, which opened in 1882 and is known locally as “Western Pen,” was previously put into “mothball” status in January 2005. The prison was reopened in June 2007 to help the department deal with its then-increasing inmate population. The prison currently houses 1,921 inmates and employs 555 individuals.
The DOC has created a dedicated email account (firstname.lastname@example.org) and a toll-free number (888-316-8950) for staff, inmate families, and others seeking additional information.
For additional information, please visit the Prison Closures page on the DOC’s website.
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