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Franklin prison is filling up fast

January 11, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Franklin County Prison population averaged 281 inmates a day in 1999, including a one-day record of 314 in February, according to Warden Raymond Rosenberry.

The daily average was up from 257 in 1998 at the 324-bed prison complex, according to a report Rosenberry gave to the County Prison Board last week. The number of inmate-days increased by more than 11,000 to 102,652 last year.

The figures translate to a daily prison population that is 24 inmates higher, and women prisoners make up a significant part of the increase. The prison averaged fewer than 20 females prisoners a day in 1998, a figure that increased to 28 last year.

"The population is down right now, but it's always down this time of year," Rosenberry said Tuesday when there were 266 inmates. He said the population is lower around the holidays because of vacations by court officials that result in fewer people being sentenced in November and December.

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In December the population averaged 257.4 a day, including 30 women, according to the monthly prison report.

"I suspect by March it will be pushing 300 again," he said.

Because of the increase, Rosenberry asked the Board of County Commissioners for six more corrections officers and two more counselors in the 2000 budget. The board authorized him to hire up to three officers this year and two counselors.

Even if all six guard positions had been approved, Rosenberry said the prison falls short of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections requirement of one officer per shift for every 15 inmates. There are now 54 guards, but 21 officers would have to be hired to meet that requirement.

"As a taxpayer, I would object to (hiring that many)," he said.

For every local tax dollar collected by the county, 76 cents goes to pay for courts, corrections and domestic relations, according to the 2000 budget. The prison budget was increased 10.4 percent this year to more than $3.8 million.

In 1997 the county instituted a "financial responsibility policy," charging inmates room and board. Prisoners pay $10 to $40 a day depending on their number of incarcerations, Rosenberry said.

He said it costs $45 a day to house an inmate.

Rosenberry had estimated the prison would collect $35,000 from the program in 1999, up from $29,000 the year before. Instead it brought in $59,000, which he turned over to the county's general fund last week.

County Commissioner Bob Thomas, president of the County Prison Board, said the "pay-to-stay" program "is low-maintenance, as far as personnel."

Prisoners on work release are charged differently, turning over 23 percent of their gross pay for room and board, a program handled through the County Probation Department's Pre-release Program.

Franklin County Prison also houses people serving sentences from Fulton County, which reimburses the prison $40 a day plus medical expenses. Fulton County averages about 20 inmates a day at the prison.

Despite those payments and reimbursements, "The prison is not one of those self-sustaining enterprises," Thomas said. "It never will be."

The county has instituted house arrest, electronic monitoring and other programs in recent years to stem the growth in the prison population.

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