Blake: SCI Waymart Operations, Jobs Spared from Closure

Senator Blake adding the final signature to his petition to save SCI Waymart. The petition was delivered yesterday afternoon to the Governor’s office with 4,000 signatures.

HARRISBURG, January 26, 2017 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today released the following statement regarding the news that the Department of Corrections will not be closing the State Correctional Institute at Waymart and two other NEPA prisons.

“I am relieved and encouraged that SCI Waymart was spared the fate of being closed by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.  This means, for the immediate future, that over 700 jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of economic impact will not be lost in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Further, the specialized services and mental health treatment sorely needed within our state’s Corrections system will be maintained at Waymart.”

“I am very pleased that two other facilities in Northeastern Pennsylvania — SCI Retreat and SCI Frackville — were also spared closing at this time. I want to express thanks for the leadership and for the voices of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association (PSCOA) and their families throughout our region.  I also want to thank all federal, state and local elected officials as well as other community partners who spoke up for our Corrections workers in NEPA. Your voices – including the 4,000 NEPA residents who signed your names to our petition delivered to Governor Wolf yesterday – have been heard in Harrisburg.”

“Needless to say, I am deeply concerned for the workers and the families in western Pennsylvania who will be adversely affected by the decision of our state Department of Corrections to close SCI Pittsburgh.  I will monitor the actions of the Department in mitigating the personal and financial impacts on our fellow Pennsylvanians.”

“We need to ensure public safety; the safety of our workers; and the safety of those under the watchful eye and the necessary constraints of our Corrections system. We also need to be smarter in how we deal with non-violent offenders in order to reduce prison populations going forward.  This means – as an alternative to shutting down facilities and shuffling prisoners around while disrupting lives and regional economies — investing in proper treatment and job training capacities to transition more non-violent offenders into productive members of society.”

The Department of Corrections announced earlier today that due to budget constraints, they will be closing SCI Pittsburgh by July 2017.

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Senate Democrats Question State Prison Closings

HARRISBURG – Jan. 18, 2016 – Opposed to the potential closure of correctional institutions across Pennsylvania, Sens. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), John Blake (D-Lackawanna) and John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) have spearheaded local meetings to examine the impact of facility closures to the region.

Since the recent announcement of upcoming correctional institution closures by the governor, Fontana, Blake and Yudichak have all been vocal critics of the proposed plan. This week, each of the three members spent time at facilities local to their district and at events focused on addressing the issues the potential closures could cause.  

“While I support the Wolf Administration’s efforts to cut costs and operate state prisons more efficiently, I’m concerned that this decision is being made hastily and without enough consideration to community and economic impacts,” Fontana said.

“I am also disappointed in the Department of Corrections’ lack of responsiveness about its prison closure decision and selection criteria.”

Blake added, “I had the opportunity to tour SCI Waymart this week and discussed their specialized operations with some of the most dedicated and talented corrections employees in the Commonwealth. While I certainly appreciate the Wolf administration’s efforts to address the significant fiscal constraints in our state budget, decisions about our Corrections facilities are public safety issues.  I do not believe that the consequences of closing any state prison have been fully vetted.

“I look forward to continuing our coordinated efforts to protect family-sustaining jobs in our communities.  I also look forward to continuing public dialogue on this important matter in our town hall meeting in Carbondale and at upcoming Senate committee hearings.”

During a roundtable discussion at Luzerne County Community College today, Yudichak met with community leaders and advocates to learn more about the potential impact a facility closure would have on safety – for correctional officers working within the system and for those in the community where inmates may be transferred in the future.

“Auditor General DePasquale’s recent audit, that highlights a 10 percent spike in inmate assaults on corrections officers, should be a big red stop sign to Department of Corrections officials who want to close two prisons and push the inmate population over safe operational capacity standards,” said State Senator Yudichak.  “The safety and security of the men and women who walk the toughest blocks in Pennsylvania should never become a casualty of tough budget decisions.”

Echoing the concerns of Yudichak at today’s roundtable discussion was Voices of J.O.E., an advocacy group for corrections officers and their families.

“Voices of J.O.E. believes that Governor Wolf should not close any prisons until the impact on corrections officers’ safety is fully understood,” said Don Williams, President of Voices of J.O.E. “The rush to cut costs may jeopardize the safety of a corrections officer on a block if this closure plan is not properly vetted.”

Blake Vows to Fight Potential Closure of SCI Waymart

SCRANTON, January 6, 2017 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today released the following statement regarding the announcement by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections of the potential closure of two state prisons – including SCI Waymart.

“Today I was informed of the PA Department of Correction’s decision to close two state prisons by June 2017. I am happy to work with the administration to achieve cost savings in our corrections system, if indeed this is the motivation of this decision, but not at the expense of public safety.”

“SCI Waymart houses over 1,400 dangerous criminals; a third of whom are in the facility’s specialized mental health and forensic inmate population.  This specialized capacity is unique to this state correctional facility.  SCI Waymart is at 90% capacity and most other facilities are at or over capacity, which begs the question of how other facilities can absorb the influx of so many inmates.”

“Further, SCI Waymart employs nearly 700 of the finest corrections workers in the state, many of them constituents of mine.  I am cognizant of the state’s budgetary challenges and the need to reduce prison populations.  However, I am not convinced that such precipitous action by the Department of Corrections is the solution to our immediate fiscal distress.  This is a matter of public safety and I will be voicing strong opposition to the closure and I will continue working with the administration to protect the specialized operations and family-sustaining jobs at SCI Waymart.”

In July 2016, Senator Blake voted for Senate Bill 1229 which would have required a public hearing prior to any closure of a state prison facility. The bill passed the Senate by a 41-7 vote but the House failed to send the bipartisan legislation to the Governor.

According to the Department of Corrections, the final decision on which two state prisons will be marked for closure will be announced on January 26.

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