New PA Prison to Open Two Years Late

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Stony Graterford state prison, one of the nation’s largest with an inmate population bigger than most Pennsylvania municipalities, and its $400 million replacement, the State Correctional Institution at Phoenix, stand side-by-side on a three-square-mile plot an hour northwest of Philadelphia. Phoenix will be a dramatic upgrade over Graterford, built in 1929, reports Its sand-colored blocks will have remote-controlled zone heating and cooling; no more of Graterford’s notoriously sweaty summers when, as a corrections officer said, “you peel your clothing off at the end of the day.” It will have electronic locks, instead of Graterford’s hand-sized keys, two gyms instead of one, and dozens of classrooms instead of a few.

It also will be less expensive to operate. It cost $123 a day, the state Department of Corrections, to house an inmate at Graterford in 2016, up from $114 the year before. Newer prisons cost as little as $90. That could be about a $48 million difference annually. John Wetzel, Pennsylvania secretary of corrections, hopes the cost at Phoenix will be less. When the prison was proposed a decade ago, Pennsylvania’s prisoner count was approaching 50,000 and expected to continue rising. In recent years the inmate population has dropped, and the state has been closing older prisons. The state spends $2 billion a year to operate 25 prisons with more than 47,000 inmates. Two years behind schedule, Phoenix finally is due to open next summer. In a profession that relies on knowing one’s surroundings inside and out, the disruption to routine outweighs excitement over “going from a ’72 Pinto to getting a new Cadillac,” said Jason Bloom of the corrections officers union. Officers are concerned about unresolved issues over staffing levels.

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