PA could soon allow out-of-state residents to work in state jails like SCI Somerset

30 January 2024- Recognizing the need to ensure state prisons are sufficiently staffed and fully secured, Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford) has introduced legislation that would allow non-residents of the Commonwealth to serve as corrections officers at the facilities.

“One of our top responsibilities as a Commonwealth is to protect public safety, and key to meeting that obligation is putting prisoners behind bars and keeping them there,” Owlett said. “Our hard-working corrections officers do a fantastic job, but they are increasingly asked to work overtime because our prisons are short-staffed. This is not in their best interest or ours.” 

During a recent visit to the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Dallas, Owlett learned the Department of Corrections is currently prohibited under law from hiring corrections officers who reside in other states. This is despite the fact several of the facilities are located in close proximity to other states, including SCI Somerset, SCI Chester, SCI Waymart and SCI Phoenix.  

“This simply doesn’t make sense, especially considering the challenges the department has faced in hiring new officers,” Owlett said. “Extending the opportunity to work in our prisons to people who live outside Pennsylvania’s borders could make a big difference with recruitment efforts.”

Limiting the ability to hire qualified workers just because of where they live would never work in business and it’s not working for the Commonwealth, Owlett added. 

In addition to the safety issue created by short-staffing, Owlett noted mandatory overtime creates stress for the corrections officers both at work and at home. When officers are required to work extra hours, it takes time away from being with their families and attending events for their children or spouses.  

Finally, overtime costs are substantial in the state’s corrections system, which could result in a request of more than $100 million in supplemental funding for the state’s current budget to meet costs.

House Bill 1968 is pending referral to a committee for consideration.