The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 16, 2013

Cresson faces reality of closing

Kathy Mellott
kmellott@tribdem.com

SANKERTOWN — SCI-Cresson corrections officer Chris Sweet is preparing to take a transfer to SCI-Benner, meaning he’ll pay $900 a month for gas and be on the road four hours a day.

But Sweet, a 15-year veteran at Cresson, and his wife, Beth, said the inconvenience will be only until they can sell their Johnstown home and move to Centre County.

“I’ll be driving 190 miles a day,” Chris Sweet said at Wednesday’s standing-room-only meeting called by the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association.

The mostly male, 250 employees were told by union officials to face the hard reality that Cresson is closing and it’s time to look at all of their options.

Despite a state Senate hearing set for next week and a public hearing in Cresson at the end of the month, the Cresson Township facility and all of its 1,500 inmates and 500 employees will be out by June 30, said PSCOA President Roy Pinto said.

“There are only two people in the state that can stop this, and they are (Department of Corrections) Secretary John Wetzel and Gov. (Tom) Corbett,” he said. “History shows we won’t be able to stop the closings, but we’re trying to delay it.”

Along with Cresson, SCI-Greensburg will be closed by the middle of the year, impacting 1,000 inmates and 370 employees

Corrections officials said the moves will save the state $23 million this fiscal year.

The inmates will be sent to SCI-Benner, a recently completed 2,000-bed prison. Some likely will go to SCI-Pine Grove in Indiana County.

Joe Fox of Portage, president of Cresson PSCOA, urged the employees to stick together.

“We’re going to have to work together to get through this. Bad things are happening to everybody,” Fox said.

Despite the hardships at Cresson, things are even worse at Greensburg, Pinto told the group. There are few openings at the two state prisons in Somerset County, and Pine Grove has only about one-third the openings needed to absorb the displaced Greensburg workers.

“I’m going to lose some of those officers and I don’t want to lose any jobs here,” he said.

A grievance has been filed because, Pinto said, DOC did not give timely notice of the closings. But the facilities are closing, he said.

State Rep. Gary Haluska,

D-Patton, announced a “Keep SCI-Cresson Open” campaign on Wednesday.

He is urging the public to let Corbett know what they think of the decision.

Information is available at www.pahouse.com/Haluska.

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