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Pennsylvania to Close Retreat Prison Facility

Pennsylvania Plans to Close Another Prison

Marc Levy - August 28, 2019

Pennsylvania prison officials are planning to close another prison, as the inmate population continues to decline and prison costs rise, lawmakers and union officials said Wednesday.

Prison officials briefed lawmakers and Retreat state prison staff in northeastern Pennsylvania about their plans to close the facility but have not released details to the public.

Two Luzerne County Democrats, Sen. John Yudichak and Rep. Gerald Mullery, whose districts include Retreat, said they would fight the closure.

Both lawmakers said that closing the facility, as well as the separate planned closure of a nearby state institution for the intellectually disabled, would devastate the area's economy.

"This is nearly 900 jobs and over $500 million in annual economic impact to Luzerne County, so when you take that out, it's going to sting," Yudichak said.

Gov. Tom Wolf's office declined to comment.

The state corrections officers' union said it appreciated a pledge by the Department of Corrections not to lay off Retreat's employees, but it said the closure makes no sense given questions about Pennsylvania's parole system and impending changes to it.

"It's very clear that price tags are being placed before public safety," Larry Blackwell, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, said in a statement.

Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel in July ordered a review after five Pennsylvania parolees were charged in quick succession with six homicides, most with connections to domestic violence. The victims included two children, three women and a Pittsburgh police officer.

On Wednesday, the department issued a report recommending changes to the system, including establishing a statewide policy that dictates when to incarcerate parolees who have new charges filed against them. The review otherwise reported no evidence of misconduct or policy or rule violations that could have "reasonably" changed the outcomes in the five cases.

Administration officials have said it is more effective to try to work with non-violent parole violators through workshops and treatment programs rather than locking them up for minor parole violations.

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