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January 18, 2013

Hearing to look at state prison closings

NEW CASTLE — The Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee will conduct a hearing Tuesday to explore how the department of corrections identified two state prisons selected for closing, Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, the panel’s chairman said.

The Greensburg and Cresson state prisons, with a total of about 2,400 inmates, will be closed in the next six months. Many of the inmates will move to the newly built Benner state prison, a 2,000-bed facility near State College that was once envisioned as a place to help house the rapidly growing prison population.

Greenleaf, a Republican from Montgomery County, said the hearing was chiefly ordered in response to questions raised by Sen. Kim Ward, a Republican from Westmoreland County, whose district includes the Greensburg facility.

“Sen. Ward has raised legitimate questions” about how Cresson and Greensburg were selected and the community notification process employed by the department of corrections, Greenleaf said.

About 800 employees will be displaced from Greensburg and Cresson, and they are eligible for about 1,200 open positions at other prisons around the state, he said.

Eventually, shifting inmates to Benner from Greensburg and Cresson will save $35 million a year, Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said, though the state will be left to figure out what to do with the two properties.

The state now counts more than 51,000 inmates, including about 2,400 in county jails or community correctional centers. The system was designed for about 44,000 but has beds for about 48,000.

Greenleaf said the hearing also will likely delve into how the department of corrections came up with its estimate of cost savings associated with the prison closings.

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