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Officials: SCI Pittsburgh closure may lead to overcrowding at Westmoreland County Prison | TribLIVE.com
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Officials: SCI Pittsburgh closure may lead to overcrowding at Westmoreland County Prison

Rich Cholodofsky
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
The city skyline looms over SCI Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. The state will close SCI Pittsburgh this year.

Westmoreland County officials said Monday the planned closing of SCI Pittsburgh could lead to overcrowding at the county jail.

“This is a big deal,” Commissioner Charles Anderson said.

State officials last week announced the prison on Pittsburgh’s North Side will close this year because of declining inmate population and save the state $81 million a year.

The prison serves as a regional diagnostic and classification unit for inmates sentenced to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

Warden John Walton said inmates sent from Westmoreland County Prison to state prisons initially are transferred to Pittsburgh, where they are assessed and sent to other facilities throughout the state.

Walton said the state allows only six inmates to be sent to the classification unit at a time, so some inmates must wait days to be transferred to Pittsburgh. He suggested the wait could be significantly longer should all inmates sentenced to prison be sent for classification to the state facility in Camp Hill, near Harrisburg.

The three-hour drive to Camp Hill would mean fewer trips, leaving more inmates to sit longer in the county jail before they are taken to a state facility, Walton said.

Delays in sending inmates to state facilities could cause a backlog of 50 to 60 inmates a month, according to the warden.

“We would really be packed,” Walton said.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Amy Worden said 131 inmates from Westmoreland County moved through the Pittsburgh classification center last year.

“The center at Camp Hill will absorb the classification work until such time that a new diagnostic and classification center is opened in the western region. Especially given the number of new Department of Corrections commitments being down, (Camp Hill) will be able to absorb the classification duties without causing delay,” Worden wrote in an email.

The potential for overcrowding at the county jail has been an issue for the last year, and the number of inmates at the Hempfield facility continues to rise.

On Monday, the county jail held 644 inmates, nearing its functional capacity of 711 inmates. In December, the jail had an average of 637 inmates — an increase over the previous year by more than 12 percent, Walton said.

The higher inmate population has impacted the county’s budget.

Walton said the county paid more than $38,000 in penalties to the company hired to provide medical care for inmates. Wexford Health Sources was paid $2.2 million last year to run the jail’s health services. As part of a five-year deal with the county, it receives more money when the jail’s monthly population exceeds 575.

The company is required to pay back money to the county when the population falls below that threshold. That situation did not occur last year, Walton said.

The county’s medical contract with Wexford Health Sources expires this spring. Officials said they want a new deal that will not be contingent on the jail’s population.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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