The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

January 29, 2013

Cresson gets its chance to be heard

Local leaders to attend meeting set Thursday

CRESSON — Despite word that the decision to close SCI-Cresson will not be reversed, elected officials are urging everyone impacted to attend a hearing set for Thursday.

It is being co-sponsored by state Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, and state Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Patton. The Cresson prison is in the legislative district of both officials.

Haluska said Tuesday the forum will serve as a hearing of the House Democratic Policy Committee.

Because of the far-reaching economic impact, that shutting the 500-employee facility will have on Cambria County, state Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johns­town, and state Rep. Frank Burns, D-East Taylor, also will participate.

Haluska hopes public comment at the hearing may send a message to Gov. Tom Corbett that the way the decision was made to close Cresson is not how responsible and responsive government works.

“The guards and other employees who work as SCI-Cresson and the people who live in the community who depend on those jobs and the economic activity the prison generates – none of them had any say in this decision,” Haluska said.

“They didn’t even get a warning.”

The decision to close SCI-Cresson and SCI-Greensburg was made in December, state Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel told the state Senate Judiciary Committee at a hearing last week. The decision was not made public until earlier this month.

Wozniak said he learned of the closings on Jan. 8, when an Associated Press reporter contacted him. Also on that day, many prison employees learned of the closing through Internet postings or news broadcasts.

SCI-Cresson, located at the Summit in Cresson Township, houses 1,500 inmates and employs 537 people. Greensburg, houses 1,000 inmates and has 370 employees.

The Department of Corrections confirmed Tuesday that inmates from Cresson’s mental health unit have been moved other state prisons.

Spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said that SCI-Benner, a Centre County prison where many of the Cresson inmates and employees likely will be going, is not yet open and Cresson remains fully operational and staffed.

“Employees are now in the process of responding to job surveys, so I don’t believe any actual transfers have taken place yet,” she said.

The goal date for complete closure of the facility remains June 30.

McNaughton said the department does not have any information about possible reuse of the prison.

What happens after that mid-year date is a concern to Haluska, who said the Department of Corrections has no plans to retain any of the current security personnel.

Keeping an eye on the closed facility may be privatized by the Corbett administration, Haluska said.

Meanwhile, calls by the Greater Johnstown Regional Partnership for the governor to reverse or delay the closing have gone unanswered, according to partnership leader Mark Pasquerilla.

“To be clear, we have not heard anything,” he said in an email to The Tribune-Democrat. “(It) is puzzling and shows a deaf ear by the administration for the need for jobs in our county and the seriousness of the economic impact of this closing.”

Wozniak said his concerns reach beyond Cambria County to the Cresson prison employees, who may opt to relocate to the State College area or another area with a prison.

The local real estate market remains sluggish, and families may find it difficult to sell their homes. Meanwhile housing in the Centre County region is more expensive, Wozniak said.

Speak out

What: Hearing to gather input on the closing of SCI-Cresson.

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Where: Cresson Volunteer fire hall, 223 Ashcroft Ave.

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