HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS/AP) — 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.
“The SCI Retreat closure report was developed through a transparent, inclusive process and provides a thorough, straightforward, facts-based review of the realities surrounding the facility’s financial needs and the effects a closure could have on the staff, inmates, and the community in regard to public safety. These factors indicate to me that closure is the right decision,” Wolf said. “I understand that a closure is tough on the employees, the community and the inmates and their families. The DOC staff will work to ensure a smooth transition for all involved and I will be in touch with DOC executive staff throughout the closure process.”
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.
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.
“As a result of the significant budget deficit and continued decrease in the inmate population, among other factors, it would be fiscally irresponsible to not close the prison,” Wolf said.
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.
Before employee relocation is conducted, the prison’s inmate population will be gradually relocated to other DOC facilities. Inmate relocation decisions will be based on each inmate’s custody level and treatment and medical needs.
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.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)