WILKES-BARRE — The Pennsylvania House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bipartisan proposal that would provide a standardized process on how public safety facilities, including state prisons and state police barracks, are closed in the future.
Senators John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke, Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, David G. Argall (R-29), Michele Brooks (R-50), and Wayne Fontana (D-42) sponsored Senate Bill 748 — which would establish the Public Safety Facilities Act — in response to recent state prison closures over the last few years that were undertaken with little or no input from the communities that were affected.
In 2015, Governor Tom Corbett and Secretary John Wetzel closed two state prisons, SCI Cresson and SCI Greensburg.
In 2017, the Wolf Administration sought to close down at least one state prison out of a potential five prisons from communities across the state, including SCI Frackville, SCI Mercer, SCI Pittsburgh, SCI Retreat and SCI Waymart.
In the end, only SCI Pittsburgh was closed.
The five legislators convened a bipartisan hearing on Jan. 23, 2017, to learn about the process of how a state prison is closed, noting the shock to the communities that were notified in the 11th hour of a possible closure.
“We worked together in a bipartisan way to ensure that any future decision when it comes to potentially closing state prisons or state police barracks goes through a process that is open and transparent,” the senators said in a news release. “These institutions provide jobs to the community that are vital to local economies. Many communities embraced the placement of a state prison and it is troubling that these decisions that affect the lives of hundreds of Pennsylvanians can be made overnight. Senate Bill 748 will make it a deliberate process if the state chooses to close down any more facilities.”
The bill would require the state to notify state and local stakeholders, including local lawmakers, within three months of a planned facility closure, as well as thoroughly review any local implications of the planned closure.
The agency seeking to close the facility must also hold a public hearing in the county where the facility is located and provide a written report detailing the recommendations to the governor and leaders in the General Assembly.
“Transparency is key and this bill will ensure there is a better process moving forward,” they senators added. “We are grateful for the input and support of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, who represent the thousands of state corrections officers at our 24 state prisons.”
The legislation will head to the Senate for a concurrence vote then to Gov. Wolf for his signature.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.