CLARION — As costs associated with transporting local inmates to state prison continue to rise, Clarion County officials are once again asking the state to consider a closer State Correctional Institution (SCI) facility for inmate transfers.
During their meeting last week, Commissioners Ted Tharan, Wayne Brosius and Ed Heasley announced that the county recently sent another letter to the state Secretary of Corrections and Gov. Tom Wolf urging them to reconsider a mandate – implemented following last April’s closure of SCI Pittsburgh – that requires that all county inmates heading to state prison be transported to the state-approved SCI Greene.
“This is a problem for all the northwest counties of the state,” Heasley said last week, noting the sheriff departments have to deal with an increase in costs associated with transportation, deputy time and more to transport inmates the extra distance to SCI Greene.
In order to alleviate some of the costs, Heasley’s letter urged Harrisburg officials to instead consider the appointment of SCI Forest, SCI Mercer or SCI Albion as possible state inmate intake facilities for Northwestern Pennsylvania.
According to the letter, Clarion County taxpayers absorbed approximately $3,554 in additional costs to transport inmates from the county jail for processing into a state correctional facility in 2017. While the county’s cost to transport inmates to SCI Pittsburgh would have been approximately $6,370, it cost $9,924 to travel to SCI Greene.
In addition, the letter continues, the Clarion County Sheriff’s Department now must travel approximately 120 more miles, which increases the travel time approximately two hours per trip — which could take even longer depending on the weather, traffic and wait time at SCI Greene.
“When you add the additional costs all the other northwest counties had to pay, there’s a significant financial impact to all,” Heasley said. He added that although he was told SCI Greene was selected as the state intake facility because of its maximum security status, he believes it’s “foolish” to spend that kind of money when all of the inmates are coming from a county jail. “Somebody needs to pay attention to it.”
Clarion County Sheriff Rex Munsee said that while additional costs in gas and mileage are evident, his biggest concern for his office is the increase in necessary man hours for the trip to SCI Greene in Waynesburg.
“The state never gave a thought to how prisoners would get there when it chose Greene as the intake facility,” Munsee said, noting that unlike a trip to Pittsburgh, a roundtrip to SCI Greene can take up the entire workday for his deputies. “It’s a long haul to have to go all the way down there.”
Munsee continued if the state were to approve another closer facility for state inmate intakes, such as SCI Marienville, the additional $3,000 in expenses for time and travel to Greene could be put back into deputy services for the Clarion County community.
“That money could be used for gas and man hours in Clarion County,” he said.
Ending his letter to state officials, Heasley said that all northwest county commissioners are “fiscally responsible and operate with limited revenues and under budgetary control.”
“(We) would like the governor and secretary of corrections to allow us to continue to operate efficiently without these new significant costs arising from not having a reasonably close SCI,” he said.