Governor announces Pittsburgh prison to close, Mercer remains open

Mercer County's prison was among five prisons being considered for closure

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MERCER, Pa. (WKBN) – Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced that the Department of Corrections will close SCI Pittsburgh.

Mercer County’s prison was among five prisons being considered for closure. The Department of Corrections said it would be closing two, but Sen. Wayne Fontana told The Associated Press that the final decision was to close just one.

Residents and officials in Mercer County are breathing a sigh of relief.  The county was faced with the possibility of losing 400 jobs in an area that has already seen some tough losses.

Rep. Tedd Nesbit issued a release Thursday following the decision:

Today’s news is a welcome relief to the Mercer County community and to our region as a whole. The reason to keep SCI Mercer is evident: It is well-run, efficient and highly functioning facility that deserves to remain in our community. I am pleased that the governor and his administration realized that closing SCI Mercer would not have translated into the millions of dollars of saving needed.”

Nesbit also thanked state and local officials for their efforts in the process.

Mercer County lawmakers testified Monday during a hearing that closing SCI Mercer would be devastating. Mercer County Commissioner Matt McConnell cited the closings of Macy’s, Sears and layoffs at GE in Grove City. Commissioners also added that the recent loss of the third shift at General Motors in Lordstown affects their county.

“We lost some jobs there and once in a while we have some layoffs from our local industries and so a hit like 400 jobs being lost in the area would have been a huge blow,” Boyd said.

Sen. Michelle Brooks, R- District 50, said those hearings on Monday were the turning point for the Mercer County facility. Testimony and letters of support from surrounding businesses were part of the county’s appeal to keep the prison off the chopping block.

Brooks released a statement Thursday, applauding the decision to keep SCI Mercer open:

I am pleased with the Governor’s decision to keep SCI Mercer intact. After touring the facility, speaking with numerous staff and helping to conduct a Senate public hearing, it is abundantly clear that SCI Mercer employees have demonstrated that they get the job done in a way that benefits all Pennsylvanians and the Pennsylvania corrections system as a whole, from the standpoint of public safety, its efficient operation as the facility with the lowest cost per inmate, and its successful community service and rehabilitation.

We came together as one, we made a powerful case for the merits of SCI Mercer and its dedicated staff, and we demonstrated that today’s decision is responsible both locally as well as for the citizens of the Commonwealth.”

The local facility has 1,400 inmates with around 400 employees. The facility is the second-youngest in the state system.

Governor Wolf released the following statement on Thursday about the closure in Pittsburgh:

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.

I commend Secretary Wetzel and the Department of Corrections for their transparent, inclusive and comprehensive process to determine how to reduce its footprint while maintaining safety for the public, its employees and those it seeks to rehabilitate.

Prison population is declining and that is a good thing because it means criminal justice reforms are working. We must continue to pursue smart reforms that reduces the burden on taxpayers and protect our investments in education and drug treatment to keep people out of prison where we will spend $40,000 each to house, feed and care them.

I want to thank all Pennsylvanians who provided input during our deliberation. This decision will allow us to save taxpayers approximately $80 million while minimizing the impact on staff and local communities. My administration will work diligently with Senator Fontana, Representative Wheatley and local leaders in Allegheny County to implement a plan to find a new use for the SCI Pittsburgh location.”

Wolf said the plan is to close the prison by June 30.

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