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Snyder County Prison to close amid cost-cutting plan

  • By Tom Riese/ WVIA
Commissioners say Snyder County Prison near Selinsgrove is set to close later this year.

 Street View Oct. 2023, Google

Commissioners say Snyder County Prison near Selinsgrove is set to close later this year.

After two rounds of staff layoffs and a third still to come, Snyder County plans to close its prison later this year. Commissioners say agreements are already in place with surrounding counties to incarcerate people being held for trial, unable to post bail or serving out a criminal sentence.

Commissioner Joe Kantz said “tons of counties” are facing similar issues: lower inmate numbers and higher costs at their prisons.

“I really have a feeling that we’re not going to be the only county this year or next year looking to change the way we do business [with our prisons],” Kantz said.

Two county-funded studies showed the closure would save taxpayers money, Kantz added.

“You’re probably looking at a minimum of $1.7 million [in savings] in the next 12 months if you outsource these other inmates to other county facilities,” Kantz said of the study findings.

“Much like every person deals with in their monthly grocery bill or their healthcare costs or their transportation costs, fuel costs,” he said, “everything that we do at the prison has continually increased by double digits or more.”

A long-term contract recently ended with the prison’s food vendor, Aramark. The new contract with Summit included a 90% increase in food costs, Kantz said, and healthcare costs with vendor Pyramid rose with about 30% in recent years.

In two rounds of layoffs, Snyder County let go of 11 corrections workers as of early May. The union representing them says staff didn’t receive adequate notice ahead of that decision. Ty Sees, president of Teamsters Local Union No. 764, said his group filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the state Labor Relations Board.

There were 38 people incarcerated in Snyder County as of Tuesday, Sees said. That’s about one quarter of the prison’s capacity, according to the Pa. Department of Corrections (PADOC).

“It was known that they had less inmates, but the reality of it is nobody, at least from the union side, knew about the commissioners subcontracting our workout to other facilities surrounding Snyder County, such as Clinton County, Perry County, Montour County,” Sees said. Commissioners said Northumberland, Union, Centre and Mifflin counties also take Snyder County’s prisoners.

“They call it going out of business,” Sees said. “We call it subcontracting.”

Commissioner Kantz attributed fewer inmates in Snyder County to changes in corrections over the last decade. The COVID-19 pandemic led to fewer nonviolent offenders remaining in county prisons, he said.

“With the onslaught of diversionary courts such as mental health courts, drug courts, DUI courts, veterans courts, things of that nature… we’re finding in the past couple of years especially, our numbers of inmates have dropped considerably,” he added.

Snyder would become the sixth county in Pa. to rely solely on neighboring prisons for inmate holdings.

There’s no date set for closure, Kantz said, but called the decision “a moving target.” Snyder County Prison administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Pa. counties without prisons

Some counties have always relied on others’ facilities. Commissioners in those counties shuttered their prisons in recent decades with promises of tax savings.

Juniata County laid off 21 workers and closed its prison in a cost-saving move in 2012. The county now sends inmates to bordering Mifflin County. Cameron Commissioners shut down the prison there in 2001, citing similar financial reasons and an unsafe building.

Fulton County stopped housing inmates in 1980 and partnered with Bedford next door. Forest County asked Warren County to hold inmates “maybe over one hundred years ago,” said an administrator there.

A representative in the Sullivan County Commissioner’s Office said the county never had its own prison.

A state prison department spokesperson said the state does not need to approve a county prison closure. The department also does not track which counties may be considering closure.

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