85% of prison workers find jobs

CRESSON – About 85 percent of employees and corrections officers affected by the closures of Cresson and Greensburg state prisons have been relocated within the corrections system, department officials said.

The majority of employees have found jobs at other state prisons under the corrections hiring freeze implemented in January, Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said.

Employees and others first learned – many from the news media or secondhand from prison inmates – of the department’s plan to close the two facilities about two months ago.

But officials from the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association said the department’s efforts in the wake of the prison closure announcements have fallen short.

About 15 percent, or 123 individuals, are still without a plan for future employment as a result of the prison closures.

Employees at the two affected institutions were not prepared for the sudden announcement of the closures, PSCOA President Ray Pinto said.

“We aren’t interested in percentages,” Pinto said. “The PSCOA will not be satisfied until all affected employees have been provided family-sustaining jobs. It’s the right thing to do because they were given no warning before their lives were turned upside down.”

“The commonwealth can never allow this to happen again,” he said.

Corrections officials should have followed the federal government’s example of closing military installations implemented through the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, Pinto said.

The commission allows community leaders and employees to plan a “worst-case scenario” in the event of a possible closure, Pinto said.

“When the base closures were announced, the communities and employees that were impacted at least had fair warning and were given an opportunity to present their case for keeping their base open,” Pinto said.

SCI Cresson employees were not given the same courtesy, Pinto said.

The two state prisons employed about 842 individuals, said Susan Bensinger, corrections spokeswoman.

Of those, about 719 employees, or about 85 percent, have found employment at other institutions, Bensinger said.

The remaining 15 percent of employees either chose to retire, have not yet found a transfer or refused the department’s employment offer, Bensinger said.

Three individuals accepted another form of state employment, while 30 individuals rejected the state’s job offer, Bensinger said.

Another 30 individuals are expected to retire before the end of the year, though the exact number continues to change, Bensinger said.

About 40 PSCOA staff members who perform specialists jobs did not receive reassignment placements, Bensinger said.

Those individuals perform “unique” jobs, where only one individual is need at each institution, she said. Corrections officials are working with those individuals to find a “comparable” position at another facility, Bensinger said.

“It may not be the exact same job,” Bensinger said.

Corrections officials also continue to draw down the inmate population at each prison.

About 1,095 inmates remain at Cresson, while Greensburg currently has 876 inmates, Bensinger said.

The prisons have not accepted any new transfers of inmates, said Susan McNaughton, corrections spokeswoman.

“We’re taking our time and transitioning them out, rather than just everybody getting-on-a-bus type of thing,” Bensinger said of the inmate transfers.

The prisons are expected to be fully closed by the end of June. Inmates are being transferred to the newly constructed SCI Benner in Centre County and throughout the state prison system.

Corrections officials praised the work of prison employees and human resources officials working on the relocation process. The department’s goal is to find jobs for 100 percent of the employees not planning to retire, McNaughton said.

“It’s still a work in progress,” McNaughton said.

Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.