HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania will send 2,000 prisoners to correctional facilities in cash-strapped Michigan and Virginia in February to ease overcrowding in its state prisons.

Under the arrangement, announced yesterday, 1,000 prisoners will be sent to the Muskegon Correctional Facility in Michigan and another 1,000 to Green Rock Correctional Facility in Chatham, Va.

The inmates - all men without medical or behavioral issues - will be housed at a cost of $62 a day, which adds up to $22.6 million a year for each state.

"It's a break-even deal," said Susan McNaughton, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, adding that it would cost about $69 a day to house the prisoners in Pennsylvania.

The medium-security inmates scheduled to be transferred are being held in prisons throughout the state, including Graterford in Montgomery County.

Prisoners selected to go to the out-of-state facilities have received few if any visitors, said McNaughton.

Pennsylvania's 27 state prisons, built to hold 43,200 inmates, are housing 52,000, forcing some to bunk in modular units.

McNaughton said safety concerns - for inmates and employees - drove the decision.

Four prisons are scheduled to be built in Pennsylvania over the next several years at a cost of $800 million - including on the site of Graterford - but ground has not yet been broken for any. The first new prison is not expected to be open until 2012.

The prisoners being transferred all have longer than three years remaining on their sentences, which will allow them to return to a Pennsylvania facility before being released, said McNaughton.

Gov. Rendell's pitch to other states this year for temporary quarters for Pennsylvania prisoners was welcomed by Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, whose state is grappling with a nearly 15 percent unemployment rate.

The deal will save nearly 250 jobs at the Muskegon prison, which had been slated to close next month.

"It's an agreement that works well for both states," said John Cordell, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections. "Pennsylvania needs its prisoners lodged with the current overcrowding, and Michigan is able to fill that need and keep employees employed."

A spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections said that while it is facing overcrowding in many of its prisons, it has space in its medium-security facilities.

Federal statistics released this month showed Pennsylvania one of three states with the highest prison population increases last year. The Department of Justice said Pennsylvania, Florida, and Arizona had annual increases higher than the federal prison system, which grew by 1,662 inmates in 2008. State corrections officials attribute the spike to the two-month moratorium on parole issued by Gov. Rendell in late 2008 after the fatal shootings of two Philadelphia police officers.

Contact staff writer Amy Worden 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.