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Prison space running short in Franklin Co.

April 07, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County Prison set a record in March with its highest population ever, prompting some members of the County Prison Board to call for more prison space.

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"We're setting new records and I don't see any relief in sight," Warden Raymond Rosenberry said at Thursday's Prison Board meeting. The population hit an all-time high of 334 on March 24 and was at 317 on Thursday, according to his monthly report.

Rosenberry said the capacity of the prison and annex is 324 inmates and the population was never under 300 in March.

There were 135 inmates in the main building Tuesday with four of its five blocks at 112 percent of capacity.

The report noted that the population was well above the original design capacity of the prison, built in 1972. The 26 inmates in 10 cells in B-Block is 260 percent of design capacity and the 24 prisoners in D-Block is 240 percent of design capacity, the report said.

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The exception is E-Block, the restricted housing unit for dangerous prisoners, which has six cells but just three inmates.

The prison annex was at 87 percent of available capacity with 178 inmates Tuesday, but three of the four dormitory blocks were above their design capacity. Rosenberry said 46 percent of those in the annex are serving drunken driving sentences.

"We have room to separate fighters and so forth," Rosenberry said.

That means triple-celling some prisoners who get along with each other so they don't have to live with more violent inmates. Thirteen cells had three inmates Thursday.

"You've got three people living in a 9-by-12 space. Their fuses are short enough as it is," Chief Probation Office Richard Mertz said.

"The population is reaching a dangerous level ... almost to the point where we couldn't handle any more," Sheriff Robert Wollyung said. He told board members he has long advocated expanding or replacing the main prison building, which was designed to hold fewer than 100 inmates.

"Anything you come up with should have a budget attached to it" said County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott.

He said the Prison Board can look into new construction, acquiring an existing building, alternative sentencing and regional cooperation, but it should also see if state grants are available to help pay for a solution.

Several years ago the county established a committee to examine long-term solutions to prison crowding, but the committee died off when the population leveled off, County Commissioner Bob Thomas said. The idea was revived at Thursday's meeting and the board may re-establish a committee at its May meeting.

Mertz said county alternative programs, including house arrest, electronic monitoring, intense supervision and pre-trial release are keeping about 130 people out of jail. He said, however, some prisoners prefer to spend their full sentence in jail rather than undergo a longer probation period after their release.

Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson said crime isn't the only factor driving up the county inmate population. He said changes in sentencing laws mean more inmates are serving in county jails rather than state prisons.

"It seems to me it was a concerted effort by the state to shift the burden to the counties," Nelson said.

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