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Inmate drop delays prison plans

April 01, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A decrease in the daily inmate population at the Franklin County Prison has prompted county officials to delay indefinitely plans to increase capacity at the 25-year-old lock-up.

But the man who runs the prison insists that the expansion should begin soon.

Ray E. Rosenberry, 56, warden at the prison on Franklin Farm Lane since 1992, said his population on Monday was 236 prisoners out of an operating capacity of 278. "It's like a yo-yo," Rosenberry said. "I could have 15 bailed out today and they could send me 20 more tomorrow. I have no say on what comes in."

The record population occurred in March 1996 when 287 prisoners were locked up, he said. The complex includes the main prison building and the 64-bed annex next door that houses minimum security, work release and female prisoners.

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It costs Franklin County taxpayers about $34 a day to house prisoners.

Since last year, fewer, less serious offenders have been sent to jail. The reduction in the jail population is due to efforts by Franklin County Court judges and district justices to use alternative sentencing, more money for the county's probation department budget to allow early release for more prisoners and softening of state sentencing guidelines.

House arrest, electronic monitoring and work release are among the more popular alternatives to prison in use in Franklin County today, said County Commissioner Robert Thomas, president of the county's prison board.

Thomas said the drop in the prison's population has given the commissioners breathing room before they have to start thinking about building more jails.

This time last year, when the daily prison population was hovering around 250, judges asked the County Commissioners to consider adding onto the prison, Thomas said. Now that alternative sentencing has cut the population, there is no longer an immediate need to start thinking about expansion, he said.

Rosenberry is less optimistic. He thinks the commissioners are wrong to believe they won't have to face expansion for at least five years. "I'm inclined to think it should be less than five years, more like two years, from start to finish," he said.

"Our population is down lately, but that doesn't indicate a whole lot," Thomas said. "Many things drive a prison population up or down. Intermediate punishment doesn't do as much as some people want you to believe."

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