Governor Tom Wolf announced today that he is closing State Correctional Institute Pittsburgh in response to the projected $1.7 billion budget deficit the state is facing.
Wolf’s original plans included two prisons, but today he announced the state would close only one. The Pittsburgh facility will be fully closed June 30, 2017, according to the Department of Corrections. Employees will be offered the option to relocate into other jobs within the state prison system.
“This decision will allow us to save taxpayers approximately $80 million while minimizing the impact on staff and local communities,” Wolf said in a press release announcing the decision.
“My administration will work diligently with Senator Fontana, Representative Wheatley and local leaders in Allegheny County to implement a plan to find a new use for the SCI Pittsburgh location,” the statement continued.
The ongoing saga to choose which prisons to slate for closure brought attention from legislators across party lines. Earlier this week, the State Senate held hearings on whether the prison system could support the move.
Fontana, whose district includes the site, blasted the decision.
“In its rush to close SCI-Pittsburgh, the department largely ignored community input, the plight of local prison workers and the impact that this closing will have on our region’s economy. It’s important to emphasize that the department refused to hold or take part in a local hearing to respond to citizens’ questions and concerns,” he said.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald put a positive spin on the closing, pointing to the prospect of new development on the site.
“We realize that these are tough choices, but would rather see a prison closed than a school,” they said in a joint statement. “It’s our hope that the property can be returned to the tax rolls and what could be a valuable property can be used for development or other opportunities in the city and county.”
Update: “I think it is great that we have gotten to the point where instead of opening prisons, we are closing prisons and able to put more money towards schools,” State Representative Jake Wheatley said of the announcement. “I am saddened by the closing for the men and women who work in the facility, but think this can be an opportunity to improve our community.”
The prison sits at the north end of the city’s Ohio River corridor, a swath of industrial land that has been targeted for significant redevelopment. Additionally, Shell’s proposed ethane cracker facility – which is expected to have an impact on regional development – lies just 30 miles down the Ohio River.
The Governor’s office and the Department of Corrections announced they were also considering closing SCI Mercer in Mercer County, SCI Retreat in Luzerne County, SCI Frackville in Schuylkill County, SCI Waymart in Wayne County.
Legislators who represent these rural communities praised the decision.
“This is a victory for the people of our region, most importantly, the employees and their families at the three facilities in our area. The fact that these prisons will remain open will preserve hundreds of jobs and prevent a blow to our local economy,” Congressman Lou Barletta said.
The move is one of many the Wolf administration has taken leading into the budget season to cut costs and lower the deficit. The administration also announced that the Treasury Department consolidated its investments to save over $5 million a year.