Cresson Hearing Draws Questions about Closure Plans

(Provided photo)

HARRISBURG – State Sen. John N. Wozniak said yesterday he would support union efforts to allow current employees to provide security and maintenance if the state Department of Corrections follows through on a plan to close the State Correction Institution at Cresson.

“It’s a big facility and finding a new occupant will require some measure of security and maintenance,” Wozniak said. “It makes sense to use the current work force because they know the facility and they know the community.”

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday regarding plans for the prisons, Wozniak criticized prison officials for the secrecy surrounding their plans and for allowing corrections officers to hear the news of the closing from inmates.

“We’re in tough times and that calls for tough decisions,” Wozniak said. “But the way it’s being handled has raised a lot of questions about the process and the department’s treatment of its professional workforce.”

At yesterday’s hearing, state corrections officials stunned the panel by disclosing a plan to privatize maintenance and security at SCI Cresson after inmates are moved to a Centre County facility.

The disclosure, which took prison employees by surprise, came minutes after John Wetzel, Pennsylvania’s secretary of the Department of Corrections, apologized for his “inappropriate” handling of the news that the SCI Cresson would be closing in the coming months.

“We did not do it well and I bear sole responsibility for that,” he said.

When discussing security and maintenance plans for the facility when it becomes vacant, Wetzel said “zero” current employees would remain.

Officials also revealed that plans to close the two prisons had been developing for months and were complete in December, allowing municipal budgets to be completed and employees to buy homes without knowing that the state had already decided to close the prisons.

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