CANAAN TOWNSHIP -- Lawmakers toured one of the state prisons in our area Tuesday that's on the short list for closing. The prison in Wayne County is one of five prisons in jeopardy.
Lawmakers from northeastern Pennsylvania aren't taking any chances and doing everything in their power to keep SCI Waymart open.
The prison has nearly 1,500 inmates and is one of five state prisons on the potential chopping block.
"These inmates basically are committed by the courts, criminally insane, done heinous crimes," said Mark Truszkowski of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association.
Representatives for the corrections officers' union were also on the tour hoping the lawmakers can use their power to keep Waymart open as well as SCI Retreat in Luzerne County and SCI Frackville in Schuylkill County. They are all on the Department of Corrections' short list.
"I just think this issue, on this line item, on these facilities, hasn't been fully vetted in terms of consequences, not only to the communities to the worker and in all honesty, to the inmates themselves," said Sen. John Blake, (D) Lackawanna County.
Senator Blake spoke to reporters after the tour in Carbondale. A public hearing is scheduled in Harrisburg next week on the proposed closings.
"Decisions like this that involve a prison are public safety decisions first and fiscal decisions second."
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While SCI Waymart is one of only three prisons in the state that specialize in mentally ill patients, Blake, and other lawmakers aren't taking it for granted that it will be spared.
"Secretary Wetzel was very candid with me," said Sen. Blake. "He said no guarantees. No guarantees, he said, but keep in mind the very specialized nature of Waymart makes that decision tougher than others, no guarantees here. That's why we're vigilant. That's why we're writing letters to the governor. That's why we're holding press conferences."
Pressed on what other possible cuts could be made to make up the $600 million budget deficit, Senator Blake did not provide specifics.
One thing to note about this prison: last year, the state spent nearly $2 million to upgrade its heat from coal to natural gas.