For Immediate Release
Philadelphia, PA – Caving to public pressure to curb the growth of Pennsylvania’s bloated prison system, Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel announced on Wednesday that the DOC will be shuttering two old state prisons and transferring prisoners to a new 2,000-bed facility in Benner Township this year. Secretary Wetzel claims that the closing of SCI Cresson and SCI Greensburg is part of an effort to shut down old prisons and replace them with new “state-of-the-art facilities” at a projected savings of $35 million per year. Organizers from the Philadelphia-based grassroots campaign Decarcerate PA, however, are pointing to the $200 million price tag of the new facility, and calling for real sentencing reform that will enable the state to shut down old prisons without replacing them with expensive new ones.
“We certainly support the move to close these two prisons – particularly SCI Cresson, which is under federal investigation for its poor treatment of people with mental illness,” commented Decarcerate PA’s Matthew Pillischer. “Since the DOC is finally recognizing that Pennsylvania does not need more prisons, we hope their next step will be to cancel the unnecessary $400 million construction of two new prisons in Montgomery County.”
Despite the announced closures, the Corbett administration is continuing construction on the two new prisons, which will house 4,100 people. Decarcerate PA organizers believe this latest move by the Department of Corrections makes their call to halt construction even more urgent. They say the closing of Cresson and Greensburg presents a critical opportunity to pull the plug on the Montgomery County prisons and save the state millions of dollars, as the foundations have not even been poured yet.
This is not the first time Decarcerate PA has been critical of Governor Corbett’s prison policies, which disproportionately affect people of color and fuel what has been called the "school to prison pipeline.” In November, seven members of the group were arrested when they used school desks and a mock schoolhouse to blockade the access road to the construction site. “You can’t shrink the prison system while still building more prisons,” explained Erika Slaymaker, who participated in the civil disobedience. “And as long as Corbett is cutting education funding and closing schools, Pennsylvania’s young people will continue to be funneled into the prison system.”
Secretary Wetzel’s announcement of the closure of Cresson and Greensburg generated criticism from local officials in Cambria and Westmoreland County, who expressed concern about job loss when the two prisons close. Over the last two years, both Cambria and Westmoreland Counties have been hit hard by Governor Corbett’s budget cuts. Since FY2010-2011, Cambria County schools have lost over $9 million in state funding, while schools in Westmoreland County have had their funding slashed by over $20 million. “It’s understandable that people in Cresson and Greensburg are concerned about how these closings will impact their local economies,” responded Thomas Dichter of Decarcerate PA. “But instead of searching for ways to keep prisons open, we should be demanding that the state invest resources in rural economies in ways that promote the health, sustainability and growth of all of our communities.”
Decarcerate PA is a coalition seeking an end to mass incarceration and an expansion of mechanisms that maintain whole, healthy communities. We believe that imprisonment exacerbates the problems we face. Decarcerate PA seeks 1.) an immediate and lasting moratorium on all new prison construction, 2.) policies that shrink the prison system, and 3.) reinvestment in our communities. Such steps are necessary to secure socially responsible, personally secure, and economically viable communities in our state