A Look Inside SCI Waymart

CANAAN TOWNSHIP -- A state prison in Wayne County opened its doors to reporters on Monday.

The State Correctional Institute at Waymart was on the list of prisons that might have closed this year for budget reasons but was spared, and prison officials are convinced it's vital to the state Department of Corrections because of the mental health facilities inside.

From the moment you step inside SCI Waymart, it's clear this facility has been around for a long time. Built in 1912 as a hospital for the criminally insane, this is now SCI Waymart with nearly 1,500 inmates, many who will be returning to their communities once their sentences are served.

"Now it's our goal every day to get people living well in the community and not coming back to jail," said Superintendent Jack Sommers.

In this story

Sommers led reporters around the prison, past recreational yards, the library, and into classes that help inmates learn how to help other inmates who suffer from mental health issues.

"We'll bring them up here for a certain period of time. We'll get them med-compliant, whether it be group therapy, then see if we can get them in right frame of mind," explained Ronda Ellett.

This facility was one of several state prisons on a list for possible closure the beginning of this year. Governor Tom Wolf was looking for ways to save the state money.

But it's the special focus Waymart has on mental health that officials believe saved it.

"The mental health specialties we have the forensic treatment center, intermediate care units, personal care unit, special assessment unit, played a major factor in keeping us open," said Sommers.

Some inmates suffer from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, psychotic episodes, and more, and are treated in different sections of the prison. A forensic mental health unit has 90 beds. The intermediate unit has 140 and officials expressed concern about what would happen if the state ever considered closing Waymart in the future

"Where would those inmates go? Where would they get this type of specialized treatment and continuity of care?" asked Paul Delrosso, SCI Waymart.

Officials at SCI Waymart say there are other prisons in the state that offer mental health treatment but nothing like what is offered there as far as the openness of the facility and the ability to treat so many inmates at once.

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