Corbett Administration Redefines Focus of SCI-Graterford Construction Project

Mar 23, 2011, 17:02 ET from Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

HARRISBURG, Pa., March 23, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A new state prison facility at Graterford, Montgomery County will be redesigned to reduce costs and better meet the long-term needs of the state prison population, the Department of Corrections announced today.

As a result, the Department of General Services will begin re-bidding the project. The expected completion date has been extended approximately six months from July 2014 to later that same year.

"This, by no means, is a failure in design – it's an opportunity for us to improve upon the design,'' acting Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said. "Before we spend millions of dollars building a new prison, we need to ensure the money is being spent in an appropriate manner and that the prison design is in line with our department's mission.

"SCI Graterford East and West will continue to house up to 4,100 offenders, but this re-bidding gives us the opportunity to fine-tune the design to better fit our population needs and also to help us reduce some operational costs," Wetzel said.

"Some of these design changes will be critical for the Department of Corrections and more economical for the commonwealth,'' acting Secretary of General Services Sheri Phillips said. "It makes sense to design this prison exactly as we need it to be before we start construction. The Department of General Services will do everything possible to expedite the project.''

The prison will be divided into sections, separating medium- and maximum-security inmates. A capital case unit will be added as well as construction of the state's first, self-contained female transitional facility on prison grounds.

Of the total 2,668 female inmates in state prisons, Wetzel said, nearly 800 are from Philadelphia and surrounding counties. The state's two prison facilities for women are located in Crawford and Lycoming counties.  

"We will now be able to transition female inmates back into the Philadelphia area through a special, self-contained unit that will be included in this prison's design," Wetzel said. "This self-contained female unit supports our department's re-entry initiative and helps us to reengage these individuals with society through positive community supports."

Female inmates nearing the end of their prison sentences, and who are from the Philadelphia area, will be transferred to the unit six months prior to their release. While at the unit, the inmates will be able to visit with their children and family members.

"Helping mothers acclimate with their children is an essential part of successful re-entry," Wetzel said. "This will be the first unit of its type in Pennsylvania, and it will be located in an area of the state from which a significant number of our female inmates come."

Additional changes include a 100-bed capital case unit and a number of security and safety features that previously were not part of the prison's original design.

At the current SCI Graterford, capital case inmates are housed in the prison's restricted housing unit along with other inmates who are there for administrative or disciplinary reasons. The prison does not have a separate capital case unit, like that at SCI Greene, where a majority of the capital case inmates are housed.

"Presently there are 216 capital case inmates in Pennsylvania," Wetzel said. "Only 45 of those individuals are housed at Graterford, yet more than 100 of the convicted are from Philadelphia County."

Wetzel said this special capital case unit at the new Graterford prison will result in reduced transportation costs associated with these offenders and court hearings.

"Because of the extra security required, it costs 150-percent more to transport a capital case inmate than a general population inmate," Wetzel said. "This housing unit will allow the DOC to house capital case inmates closer to Philadelphia, thus reducing our court-related transportation expenses."  

Wetzel said that many individuals from the departments of General Services and Corrections have spent significant time working on this project and its design.  

The re-bidding of the construction project allows officials from the Department of General Services and Department of Corrections to make design enhancements and to change the scope of the project. The state has allocated $400 million for the project.

"We appreciate everyone's efforts," Wetzel said. "We are pleased to have the opportunity to review and re-examine the scope and mission of this new prison."

Media contact: Susan McNaughton, 717-975-4879

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Corrections