Pa. prison reopens 3 years after fire

The new Northumberland County Prison began taking inmates Tuesday night

By Justin Strawser
The Daily Item

COAL TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The new Northumberland County Prison in Coal township is open 1,373 days after a fire damaged the original facility in Sunbury.

Starting Tuesday night at 8 p.m., the state and the county worked together to move 148 inmates from the State Correctional Institute in Coal Township to the new $31.6 million prison located approximately six miles away at the Northumberland County South Campus. The final inmate was processed at 2:10 a.m. Wednesday. The remaining 102 inmates spread across Pennsylvania in other state and county facilities will be moved over the next week. The longest trip will be from Cambria County Prison, about 150 miles away, where two inmates are located.

"It's a relief," said Warden Bruce Kovach. "It's nice to be in our own place. Our employees and the state employees worked really well together. I commend the state and our folks. There was not one issue, and I attribute that to the good people doing their job. It was mutual cooperation, and everybody did what they were supposed to do."

The county prison system has been headquartered at the state facility since a fire destroyed the old county prison in Sunbury on Jan. 14, 2015. While the majority of inmates have been housed at SCI-Coal Township, other facilities across the state also house the county’s prisoners. At the ribbon cutting ceremony on Aug. 29, officials planned for a mass inmate transport to occur in September, but officials said a security issue and last-minute installations delayed the opening.

Kovach said the transfer process started Tuesday afternoon with inmates and their property. By 8 p.m., buses started moving the inmates. When received, the inmates were screened by the medical and mental health professionals, and the inmates' clothing, hygienic items and personal property were ready for them "to reduce the stress."

The inmates will be working the county today to set up telephone and commissary services, Kovach said.

State DOC spokesperson Amy Worden said the SCI-Coal Township Correctional Emergency Response Team searched the county jail prior to the move with a K-9 unit to ensure no contraband was found. The final inspection and move "went smoothly," she said.

"Inmate transfers are among the highest security risks," Worden said. "The security team conducted the move without incident, and we're pleased about that."

The county had its own wing in the state facility, which was once used as storage by the state, but renovated for the county. Worden said it will be used to house state inmates now.

Commissioner Sam Schiccatano, the elected official who supervised the move overnight, complimented the warden and state on coordinating the transportation, the correctional officers, the probation officers and the medical professionals.

"I commend them for an excellent job on a secure and safe move," Schiccatano said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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