Moshannon Valley Correctional Center

Future of Moshannon Valley prison tied to fight for federal contract

mcarroll@centredaily.comSeptember 22, 2013 

PrisonProvided3

A looming federal funding decision will soon determine the future of the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center in Clearfield County. Prison officials say the facility, which employes about 265 people, is competing with another prison near Youngstown, Ohio, for a renewed federal contract that allows them to house people who are in the U.S. illegally.

PROVIDED — CDT file photo

A looming federal funding decision will soon determine the future of the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center in Clearfield County.

Prison officials say the facility, which employes about 265 people, is competing with another prison near Youngstown, Ohio, for a renewed federal contract that allows it to house people who are in the U.S. illegally.

The Moshannon prison, owned by the Florida-based GEO Group, opened in 2006 as the only privately operated prison in Pennsylvania. The 1,495-bed, low-security prison primarily houses those in the U.S. illegally who have committed serious crimes.

While its contract with the government was scheduled to run through 2016, prison officials said they had to compete this year to keep the contract. And a decision could come as soon as 2014.

Officials previously had expressed concern that a drop in federal funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program could affect the local prison.

Pablo Paez, vice president of corporate relations for GEO, said the prison generates more than $20 million annually for the local economy through staff salaries, property taxes and spending.

“It would be a huge blow to our region to lose the GEO Group facility,” said Stan LaFuria, executive director of the Moshannon Valley Economic Development Partnership.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice website, applications for the funding are under review. Government officials did not return messages Friday regarding how the funding decision will be made.

Paez said only one of the prisons will receive a contract.

He would not comment further on the bidding process, but said, “We are focused on retaining the contract. We need all the community support we can get. This is extremely important.”

George Wigen, warden at the Moshannon facility, said the 260-some employees there “certainly know there is a possibility” that the facility will not receive federal funding, but they are “holding their heads high.”

“I can tell you from my perspective, the staff here, the majority of them since Day One, are some of the most dedicated professional folks I’ve seen in 40 years of corrections,” Wigen said. “It’s a very challenging job. These folks take it very seriously, and put themselves in harm’s way so the community is safe.”

In December, employees in the prison’s union voted against taking a pay cut, a move some worried at the time would hurt the prison’s chances of reacquiring the government contract.

Officials with knowledge said at the time that the GEO Group asked for concessions from the union, but that workers decided not to take a pay reduction from $21.65 per hour to $18.65 per hour. Union officials said they did not take a position on the employees’ decision.

While the $54 million facility once created controversy on its environmental, social and economic impacts, delaying construction for years, Wigen said the community has rallied around the facility.

“The community support for this facility has been tremendous,” he said. “Folks are pleased with the impact we have and would like us to continue. Part of the procurement process is community support. Local folks have written letters of support and encouragement.”

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.

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