The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

January 10, 2013

Prison closing another slap at our region

— It’s hard to define a silver lining in news that the State Correctional Institution – Cresson is closing.

Inmates at SCI-Cresson and SCI-Greensburg are heading for a 17-building, state-of-the-art facility completed recently in Benner Township, Centre County.

Any good news for taxpayers comes, perhaps, in the fact two facilities are being closed and merged into one, and that the prison population statewide fell last year and we’re not simply filling Benner with new scofflaws.

But try presenting that as good news for our region and, specifically, to Cresson area residents, businesses and prison workers.

This is major bad news, something our area has been slapped with all too often of late. It makes you wonder: When is it our turn for some really good economic news? When will a large, new industry or a government facility be sent or lured our way?

Makes you feel bitter, doesn’t it?

Makes you wonder, too, when our leaders, both community and political, will come together and score a big one from a jobs standpoint.

Why wasn’t Benner built in the Cresson area? we might ask. After all, we already have trained personnel here to man such a facility. Why uproot them and their families and ask them to move to Centre County?

Secondly, we have a major highway artery in newly updated Route 22 running nearly outside SCI-Cresson’s gates.

Aren’t we always handed the line that availability to major highway links is a reason for locating new facilities?

“(SCI-Cresson) is one of the few big employers in the area. They employ a lot of local people and they pay well. You don’t see that very often these days,” Cresson Township supervisors Chairman Scott Decoskey told our reporters.

In recent months, the township has been working with the state prison to build a new water tank to replace an aged, problematic one. The tank supplies nearly one-third of the township, Decoskey said. It also sends water to the state prison, the Cresson area water authority’s largest customer.

“They’re part of the community,” Decoskey said. “People who work there use the businesses in town. Visitors drive through town and shop. It’s more than just the people inside .... it hurts.”

The township official is spot-on.

A lot of communities benefit from a facility that houses more than 1,500 inmates and employs more than 500 people.

Our region now must pick itself up once again and move forward. Our officials must come together and plot better strategies.

In the 1980s, more than $17 million was invested  in updating the Cresson facility. It sits at a great location. Luring a new, major tenant would go a long way to healing our latest wounds.

Time is wasting.

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