Camp Hill prison population will rise amid state shutdowns


CAMP HILL, Pa. (WHTM) – The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections announced two state prisons will close at the end of this month. Thousands of inmates are set to transfer, and many of those will move to the state prison in Camp Hill.

The decision comes as the department faces significant budget cuts and as the prison population has dropped by thousands in recent years.

Right now, prisons in Pennsylvania work above 100 percent operational capacity. With two prisons closing, the system will be at 92 percent, its emergency capacity. Camp Hill could get up to 1,000 new inmates.

“We’ll save significant money, but at the same time still focus on what we’re paid to do,” Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said.

The five prisons on the list are Frackville, Mercer, Pittsburgh, Retreat, and Waymart. Many of the inmates at those prisons are headed to Camp Hill to fill 1,000 offline beds recently approved for use.

George Book, president of the West Shore Chamber of Commerce, says this will bring families and other visitors to the area, which is a good thing.

“If we do have people traveling in the area, they’re going to need a place to stay, a place to eat, a place to shop,” he said. “We have all that locally, so we may even see a boost in the economy.”

The Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association says closing prisons is a safety risk. In a statement, the association said: “It’s mystifying why this administration would be closing prisons if we can’t even house the inmates we currently have. With fewer prisons, a smaller system could literally burst at the seams, creating a public safety risk.”

Wetzel says this was the most logical option.

“I think if you look at the financial reality, our choices were to reduce staffing and programming or to do this,” he said.

The decision puts 800 jobs at risk, but the Corrections Department says every employee will be offered a position at one of the remaining facilities.

“Once we identify the facilities, we’ll do targeted hiring phases from adjacent facilities,” Wetzel said.

Many of those workers will move to Camp Hill.

“We’re talking about the possibility of good wage-sustaining jobs, which would be great for our area,” Book said.

The department will announce which two prisons will close on Jan. 26. The target shutdown date is set for Jan. 30.

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