Local officials have made it clear they want the Wernersville Community Correctional Center closed.
State officials say there are no plans to do so.
At a press conference Wednesday, State Representative Barry Jozwiak and Berks County Attorney John T. Adams were joined by officials from several local municipalities in calling for the closure of the halfway house of the canton of South Heidelberg. They cited a growing number of increasingly concerning incidents in the community perpetrated by parolees housed at the centre.
These incidents include a man who stole a tractor and assaulted the owner of the vehicle, drugs and a loaded gun that were found inside the car of a man with a history of violent crime, and a man who threatened restaurant staff with a large knife.
“They’ve exhausted their welcome,” Adams said of the center at the press conference.
The center, located in two buildings on the grounds of Wernersville State Hospital, is operated by the state Department of Corrections and has been operational since 2009. Parolees may leave the facility for reasons such as whether looking for a job or working.
On Thursday, department officials said while action was being taken to address concerns about the center, there were no plans to close it.
Department communications director Ryan Tarkowski said in an email that the center’s population would be reduced – a move local officials applauded at Wednesday’s press conference.
“Acting Secretary (George) Little directed staff to immediately begin reducing the population of Wernersville CCC, which includes finding suitable alternative placements for current residents,” Tarkowski said. “The plan is to cap the population of Wernersville at 50, consisting primarily of individuals who made this area their home before being incarcerated.”
The center’s population has fluctuated over the years, reaching 350. Tarkowski did not reveal the number of parolees currently housed at the facility or provide a timeline for when the population reduction will end.
Asked about local officials’ desire to see the center closed, Tarkowski said the department’s goal is to continue to operate the facility with a “significantly reduced capacity” so that the needs of returnees returning home to the area can be satisfied.
“But it’s safe to say that the Department of Corrections will maintain an open dialogue with community leaders and continue to consider all options moving forward,” he added.
Adams and other local officials said the department’s offer to reduce the center’s population was a good first step, but maintained they wanted to see the facility closed as soon as possible. Officials said they were eager to meet with Little to discuss the matter.