Wednesday morning, 89 years after it opened its doors, the State Correctional Institution Graterford was locked down. That was to allow the safe movement of inmates to SCI Phoenix, Graterford’s $400 million replacement, on the same 1,700-acre site in Montgomery County.
The move, which officials had long projected would be complete by June 30, was delayed; officials would not provide a detailed explanation. The Department of Corrections said in a statement that “several hundred inmates a day” would be relocated but did not say when the move was expected to be completed.
“Employees and inmates have been waiting patiently for this move to take place,” Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said in the statement. “We are aware of the anxiety that this move has caused everyone, and we have worked diligently to plan for every aspect and to ensure that the transition is smooth for everyone involved.”
Still unresolved is a dispute over the final price tag for the project: The state Department of General Services has said that contractor Walsh Heery owes $35,000 per day in damages for delays in the prison’s completion. Those fines, accrued since a November 2015, would add up to a $30 million refund owed taxpayers.
>>READ MORE: Pa.’s $400 million prison opening delayed
Many inmates have been dreading the move to SCI Phoenix, a modern facility that’s drastically different from what they’re used to. Movement is much more highly controlled, for security purposes. It’s a complex of separate buildings, meaning men who have not owned winter coats or rain gear in years will have to reacquaint themselves with inclement weather. And virtually all cells are doubles, meaning that it’s likely that even lifers who have long enjoyed single-cell privileges will have roommates.