Ceremony, tours mark Benner Township prison opening

State Department of Corrections officials will converge Monday in Centre County for an opening ceremony and public tours of the newly constructed prison in Benner Township.

Spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said inmates will begin moving into the $200 million state prison starting in the next few weeks. In the meantime, residents can get a look inside during tours set for Monday and Tuesday.

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and other officials and elected leaders will speak during the opening ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Monday at the facility in Benner Township.

Public tours are set for 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Monday and from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

The new facility, located next to the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, will have 2,000 inmates and more than 500 staff on board by the end of June, according to the Corrections Department.

It is expected to receive inmates from two state prisons in western Pennsylvania the state is closing to save money. By shuttering prisons in Cresson, Cambria County, and Greensburg, Westmoreland County, the state expects to save $23 million, corrections officials have said.

When it opens, the facility will serve as the new transportation hub for Pennsylvania’s jails. Its central location in the state, and its proximity to Interstate 80 are allowing the facility to replace Smithfield in Huntingdon County as the state’s hub.

McNaughton has said the move will make transitions easier and cut down wear-and-tear on buses that move about 900 inmates across the state each week. Sorting prisoners at a centralized hub cuts down on the number of buses that must travel to far-flung facilities like Albion state prison in Erie County.

Road crews completed a enhancement project in late 2012 at the intersection of the Benner Pike and Rockview Road, which is the entrance to the Benner facility and the neighboring Rockview state prison.

State Department of Transportation officials determined the additional traffic the new prison is expected to generate warranted the installation of a traffic light and turning lane at the intersection.