John K. Manna
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
The New Castle Youth Development Center is closing.
Gov. Tom Corbett announced Tuesday the facility, in operation for approximately 45 years off Frew Mill Road in Shenango Township, will close Feb. 15.
Juveniles housed at the facility, reported to be 31 as of Jan. 1, are being moved to other youth development centers throughout Pennsylvania. Donna Morgan, public information specialist for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, said Tuesday afternoon the juveniles were to be moved within the next 24 hours.
The closure will affect 223 employees at the YDC, according to the governor’s office.
Local legislators were caught by surprise at the announcement and are asking the administration to keep the facility for delinquent juveniles open.
A press release issued by the governor’s office said referrals to the YDC have “drastically decreased” over the last several years.
The 100-bed facility costs taxpayers more than $19.4 million annually, the release said. Closure of the facility will result in a savings to taxpayers of $73 million over five years.
A team from the state department of labor and industry will provide information and assistance to employees “to help the 223 affected individuals become re-employed quickly.”
Vacancies within the department of public welfare also will be temporarily frozen so dislocated employees from the YDC can be provided opportunities to move into other positions.
Morgan said employees will have the possibility to move to other youth development centers. She said the closest one to New Castle is the Cresson Secure Treatment Unit in Cambria County.
Union employees, estimated at 210, will have the ability to bump, she said. The department is “also reaching out” to other state agencies “to see if they have positions available.”
Corbett said the closing is part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, established last year to evaluate ways to enhance public safety through the most efficient and effective use of state resources. The plan will invest $10 million into strategies for at-risk youth and juvenile offenders.
“This is a reinvestment strategy that works for Pennsylvania,” he said. “But we’re also committed to minimizing impacts to the residents of Lawrence County through a strong re-employment and economic development plan that will continue to provide jobs for those in the surrounding region.”
“We really do realize how difficult this is for employees and we are working with them to get them another job as soon as possible, as we also explain to them why it’s so important to right-size the current juvenile justice system which they have played an important role,” Morgan said.
The statement from the governor’s office also says the departments of community and economic development and general services will work with local government, community and business organizations to examine and market the property for resale or redevelopment.
Republican Sens. Elder Vogel and Bob Robbins and Democratic Reps. Jaret Gibbons and Chris Sainato issued a joint statement on the closing.
Vogel said the employees “offer first-rate support to those in need. Unfortunately, over the last five years the state hasn’t reciprocated that support.
“Instead of closing the facility, we should work with the” YDC employees “to meet the needs of the juvenile justice programs in Pennsylvania.”
Sainato said the employees, have “met every challenge” thrown at them by the state, adding that for the department to say “we are closing you down next month is outrageous.”
He noted legislators have been told several times by the department that there are no plans to close the facility. He questioned how the department arrived at its decision and “where is the transparency?”
Gibbons, whose district includes the YDC, said he is disappointed the department is choosing not to revamp the facility to meet the needs of the state’s juvenile justice system and support the local economy. Regardless of what happens, he said, the priority must be to make sure the state provides assistance to the employees “to ensure their continued employment.”
Speaking to the New Castle News, Gibbons expressed dismay that the legislators had not been informed or consulted about the closure earlier.
“I’m disappointed to how quickly this happened,” he said. “I’ve been trying to set up a meeting with deputy secretary Beverly Mackereth to meet with us in the past four months.
“We had something scheduled in December in Pittsburgh. Then, they canceled at the last minute.
“I’m disappointed that they’re moving forward in this way without sitting down with us to discuss what needs to be done to keep it open.”