CANAAN TWP. - The State Correctional Institution at Waymart may close, the state has announced.
The move would impact about 700 employees – 173 of whom live in Wayne County - and would also be a financial hit to Canaan Township, which has an occupational privilege tax allowing it to collect thousands of dollars a year from people working in the municipality.
SCI Waymart houses about 1,400 inmates who would have to be relocated if it closes.
The facility is one of five prisons under consideration for closure. Two will close, and the state will announce which two Jan. 26.
The target closure date is June 30.
State Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary John Wetzel said, “We have implemented a variety of cost savings initiatives over the past several years, yet we are again in the position where the Department of Corrections must make significant reductions. … The most significant reduction we can make as an agency is a prison closure.”
The announcement came days after the state auditor general said overtime payments to SCI Waymart corrections officers more than tripled between 2012 and '15, going from $1 million to nearly $3.2 million.
If SCI Waymart closes, every displaced employee would be offered a position within the Department of Corrections.
The nearest other state prisons are in Luzerne County, at Dallas and Retreat, and Retreat is one of the five that could close.
Meanwhile, Canaan Township stands to lose about $7,000 per year in occupational privilege tax revenue.
The township collects $10 per year for each employee who works in the municipality, said Board of Supervisors Chairman Lewis Henshaw.
“Sure it's going to be a hit,” he said.
He added, “It's the state's own fault,” noting the overtime payment issue at the minimum-security facility in Wayne County. “The politicians have to do something.”
State Sen. John Blake, a Democrat whose legislative district is Lackawanna, Luzerne and Monroe counties – where many SCI Waymart employees live – said he will be voicing strong opposition to the closure.
The senator noted SCI Waymart is at 90 percent capacity and most other facilities are at or over capacity, “which begs the question of how other facilities can absorb the influx of so many inmates.”
The DOC said its decision will take into account many factors, including the ages of the prisons, operational costs, specialty functions of the facilities and economic impact on the affected communities.
The state acknowledged the closure of SCI Waymart would present significant challenges since it serves inmates with serious mental health conditions.
The transition of those services would be “extremely difficult” and the DOC would incur “significant additional costs.”
Blake noted a third of SCI Waymart's inmates are in specialized mental health and forensic inmate population.
“This specialized capacity is unique to this state correctional facility,” he said.
The senator added, “. … I will be voicing strong opposition to the closure and I will continue working with the administration to protect the specialized operations and family-sustaining jobs at SCI Waymart.”
SCI Waymart was built in 1912 and its yearly staffing costs total $83.41 million.