At a time of lower crime rate, public attention has turned to the economic and social costs of widespread incarceration and many states are trimming their counts of prisoners. “This is the new normal for state corrections,” says Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John Wetzel. On Thursday, he is expected to announce which two of the state’s 26 prisons will close this year, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. This month, state officials identified five possible targets: correctional institutions in Pittsburgh and in Mercer, Luzerne, Schuylkill, and Wayne counties. Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration says the closings could save the state as much as $160 million at a time when Pennsylvania faces a budget shortfall projected to surpass $1.5 billion next year. They say there are enough empty beds at other sites to accommodate the transfer of thousands of inmates.
Still, the plan has prompted backlash, and more could be looming. Some legislators, including those with job-rich prisons in their districts, have questioned how the closures are being decided. The union representing corrections officers has decried the plan, which would affect hundreds of its members, although state officials say employees will be offered other jobs in the system. Pennsylvania recorded its highest prison population count, 51,757 inmates, in June 2012, said corrections spokeswoman Amy Worden. A few weeks ago, the tally stood at 49,301.