HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s administration announced in late January that it will close State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh (SCI Pittsburgh) to save money and help ease the state’s budget deficit. The state’s inmate population is currently in a decline, and Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said the closure of the 1,900-inmate prison will produce a net annual savings of about $81 million, reported the Associated Press. The closure is currently planned for the end of June.
The original plan included shutting down two prison facilities from a list of five — Pittsburgh, Frackville, Mercer, Retreat and Waymart — however, the state ultimately decided to close just one. Within the state’s current 26 prisons, there is an inmate population of about 49,000, which has decreased by about 2,400 since 2012, according to the Associated Press. The governor’s plan also involves getting rid of about 1,500 halfway-house beds, most of which are occupied by recent parolees who have no other living alternatives.
“The growing size and cost of our prisons system has gone unaddressed for too long — rising to more than $2 billion and threatening funding for programs that the people of Pennsylvania want: education, senior care and jobs and training programs,” Gov. Wolf said in a statement.
The Pittsburgh facility first opened in 1882. While the facility is outdated, it currently serves as a diagnostic and classification center as well as houses medical services such as a cancer treatment unit. It also features therapeutic programming with a veterans’ service unit, space for inmates with substance abuse issues and even a hemophilia unit that treats up to six inmates at a time. The fact that it houses these services made it a difficult choice to shut down, but state officials relocated them to other facilities, Wetzel told the Associated Press.
While the closing of the prison will help the state, Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny, a district representative, said the prison closure is hasty and flawed and that the regional economy could be affected, reported the Associated Press. The 555 people who worked at the prison, however, will be offered jobs at other correctional facilities where inmates will also be transferred.
SCI Pittsburgh joins SCI Cresson and SCI Greensburg, which closed in 2013. SCI Phoenix in Skippack Township is currently under construction alongside the existing Graterford facility nearby; however, that project has been delayed. When it is completed, the current Graterford facility will also face closure.