PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association said Tuesday the shutdown of state prisons in Westmoreland and Cambria counties might be inevitable.
"These decisions have been made in the past and we've found, in all likelihood, there's really little that can be done to stop them," said Roy Pinto before an association meeting in South Greensburg.
"I'm here to fill the employees in on what I know and hope to put some of their fears to rest. One of the things we have accomplished is we do have assurances from the corrections department that they will not add anyone new until we find jobs for these people here that want one," Pinto said.
Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel announced Jan. 9 that prisons in Hempfield and Cresson would be shuttered by June 30 and a newly constructed prison would open in Centre County.
The realignment is designed to save $23 million in fiscal year 2013-14 and more in future years.
Garth and Sara Price of Ligonier, corrections officers at SCI Greensburg who are expecting a baby in June, said they are still in shock over Wetzel's announcement. The realignment will have an impact on 370 employees at the Hempfield prison.
"I've only worked here 4 1/2 years. I don't have seniority like some of the other guys with 15 to 20 years, so there's little chance I'm going to get one of the regional jobs," Price said. Some of the inmates will be transferred to a 300-bed unit to open at SCI Pine Grove in Indiana County.
Pinto said the department has told the union it will try to match workers with nearby positions but employees are not guaranteed jobs within a particular distance.
"With my seniority ... my only option could be driving to Benner, which is 108 miles one way," Price said. "I'm facing furlough and potential loss of all my benefits if I don't take it. It's very difficult."