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Governor Approves Closure of SCI Retreat

NEWPORT TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The governor has approved the closure of SCI Retreat. The Pennsylvania Bureau of Corrections recommended the closure of the correc...

NEWPORT TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- The governor has approved the closure of SCI Retreat.

The Pennsylvania Bureau of Corrections recommended the closure of the correctional facility in Luzerne County earlier this week.

“As a result of the significant budget deficit and continued decrease in the inmate population, among other factors, it would be fiscally irresponsible to not close the prison,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a release.

Employees will be given a survey to determine their relocation choices.

Inmates will gradually be relocated to other facilities.

"We understood the Department of Corrections was not listening to the voices of Luzerne County, so we had to be prepared for the worst. Today the worst news was delivered," said State Sen. John Yudichak, (I) 14th District.

Lawmakers, staff, community members and even former inmates spoke out against the closure.

Newswatch 16 sat down with Scott Barbarito of Freeland who was convicted of drunk driving offenses and served time at SCI Retreat. He believes closing the prison could be dangerous.

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"I think the chaos of moving the COs and the inmates to different prisons, it's already a very anxiety-ridden claustrophobic environment and now you're putting people in different prisons where there's more chaos now," Barbarito said.

Sen. Yudichak echoes those concerns.

"Closing down another prison and forcing those inmates into other prisons destabilizes the prison population and that creates danger for both the inmate and the staff," said Sen. Yudichak.

Barbarito says the inmate population was increasing when he left SCI Retreat a little over a year ago.

"I see a lot of them taking away Z-codes which are single-cell status from people because they don't have the room to keep people on single-cell status, and that's people who have been in a cell by themselves for 20,30,40 years."

Gov. Wolf says inmates will be transferred to other locations based on their treatment needs. Barbarito hopes it's done correctly.

"A lot of them going to other prisons that aren't equipped for that or have staff that aren't as familiar with that, you know, that could be detrimental alone right there."

Sen. Yudichak says the state wants to reduce the number of inmates, but this is not the way to do it.

"They really want to get away from incarceration and I would love that. I'd love to have a day where we didn't have crime in the streets, but we have crime every day, and unfortunately, this political ideology, this political agenda is hurting families and it's hurting the communities of northeastern Pennsylvania."

The Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association denounced the decision in a statement saying, "State lawmakers must hold the Department of Corrections accountable for putting money over public safety, or prisons in their legislative districts will be next."

While the governor says the staff at SCI Retreat will be guaranteed jobs at other state facilities within 65 miles, Yudichak hopes to keep them employed in Luzerne County to lessen the impact of the closing on surrounding communities.

"This is going to be a big economic hit to the tune of over $60 million to local vendors, to local communities loss of tax revenue. (For the) school district, this is going to be a big negative impact. We need an immediate reinvestment strategy in Luzerne County and the governor's committed to doing that," Yudichak said.

SCI Retreat will remain open until at least the middle of May.