HARRISBURG – This week, the Senate approved bipartisan legislation by a vote of 47-1 to reform future state prison closures in Pennsylvania.
Last January, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections made a public announcement regarding the closing of two of five selected state prisons across the state – allowing for only twenty days to hear concerns from parties directly impacted by these closings including the institutions’ workforce, local governments and elected officials.
Senate Bill 748 creates the Public Safety Facilities Act to require sufficient notice and feedback of any potential state correctional facility closure in Pennsylvania as well as other institutions where law enforcement staff is employed. Under the bill, notification requirements and comprehensive strategies are mandated in order to decrease the chaos and stress placed on employees and local communities where a prison closing will occur.
Senator David G. Argall (R-Berks/Schuylkill), the prime sponsor of this bipartisan legislation, noted the importance of this type of initiative, particularly with regards to the negative impact a local community in his district would have experienced with the potential closure of SCI Frackville. “Immediately when we heard the department’s announcement about the potential closure of SCI Frackville, we were inundated with correspondence from local residents voicing their concerns over this possible closure,” said Argall. “It was clear that our local and state elected officials needed to work together to present a strong, well-founded case that closing SCI Frackville would not only be financially damaging, but it would also jeopardize the safety and well-being of the community and its residents – which is exactly what we did.”
Senator John Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon) and Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne/Pike/Susquehanna/Wayne/Wyoming), both co-sponsors of Senate Bill 748, also fought to save correctional facilities in their areas from potentially closing. SCI Retreat is located in Senator Yudichak’s district and SCI Waymart is located in Senator Baker’s district.
Senator Yudichak applauded the Senate’s passage of this important initiative. “Today’s vote in the Senate is an important step toward establishing a transparent process for any future prison closures in the Commonwealth. By reforming the way our public safety facilities are closed, we are ensuring that our citizens and the communities affected are given the opportunity to have their voices heard,” said Yudichak.
Senator Baker mentioned the importance of organized planning when examining potential state prison closings. “It requires time and resources to site, construct, and operate these prisons. These institutions contribute to the local economy as well as to public safety. It is only fair that a closure come about as a planned process, rather than a politically capricious act,” said Baker.
Argall believes that the Senate’s passage of Senate Bill 748 provides a more efficient and streamlined process for future prison closings in the state. “The strength and vitality of our communities is dependent upon open dialogue between residents, their elected officials and state government officials,” stated Argall. “By including local residents in the decision-making process, we can work together to clearly assess the potential consequences that may arise if a state correctional institution has the potential to close. What better way to make these assessments than to hear feedback from those who are working directly in the trenches inside our state prisons?”
Senators who are also co-sponsors of the bill include: Senator John Blake (D-22); Senator Jay Costa (D-43); Senator Kim Ward (R-39); Senator John Rafferty (R-44); Senator John Gordner (R-27); Senator Wayne Fontana (D-42); and Senator Michele Brooks (R-50).
The bill will now move to the House of Representatives.