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New prison studied in Pa.

October 19, 2000

New prison studied in Pa.



By DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - With many prisoners sleeping three to a cell, the Franklin County Prison Board Thursday recommended that the Board of County Commissioners hire a consultant to come up with short-term answers to prison overcrowding, possibly including separating the work-release program completely from the Department of Corrections.

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Warden Ray Rosenberry said the inmate population Thursday was 333, nine short of the record one-day record set Sept. 8. That included 39 inmates triple-celled, he said.

"We got 19 commitments yesterday," Rosenberry said of the people receiving jail sentences Wednesday in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. During the special Prison Board meeting he said there were only eight beds available for the 13 people sentenced to the work-release annex, with the overflow being housed in the main prison.

Several months ago the Prison Board appointed a Prison Planning Committee to examine the overcrowding problem.

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Judge Douglas W. Herman, a member of the board and committee, said the committee is recommending the county put out a request for proposal for short-term answers, while the county's Criminal Justice Advisory Board examines long-term fixes, such as a new prison.

The main prison was built in 1972 to house 71 inmates in single cells. "Within 24 months they were already beyond the design capacity and were double-celling," Herman said.

"It has outrun its useful life," Herman said of the main prison. The prison annex, which houses work-release and female inmates, was built in 1992.

One issue a consultant should examine is whether the work-release program, administered by the Probation Department, should be physically separated from the prison, Herman said.

County Commissioner Bob Thomas, president of the Prison Board, said the courts determine which inmates are eligible for work-release and the Probation Department administers the program. "They are still inmates of Franklin County Prison with their care and custody falling under the prison administration," Chief Probation Officer Richard Mertz said.

Mertz said at least one other Pennsylvania county, Dauphin, has a work-release facility run by its probation department. Housing work-release inmates elsewhere could free up more beds for inmates at the annex.

If Probation is put in charge of housing work-release prisoners, Mertz said his department would need to hire more officers to run the facility.

Herman defined short-term as three years. In recommending the Criminal Justice Advisory Board do the long-term needs assessment, Herman said that could mean "a major prison construction program which, out of necessity, would be some years down the road."

Earlier this year the county received a three-year grant for approximately $100,000 from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to form the advisory board. Its mission is to examine the criminal justice system from arrest, prosecution, incarceration and release to see how it can be streamlined.

The advisory board, which includes representatives from police departments, courts, prison, Probation, District Attorney's and Public Defender's offices and other agencies and departments involved in the justice system, held an organizational meeting Thursday.

Other short-term options that may be examined by a consultant could include additions or renovations at the prison complex, Herman said.

Commissioner G. Warren Elliott asked if the main prison's basement could be converted to cell space. District Attorney John F. Nelson said years ago that idea had been rejected as impractical, but may now be considered as a short-term fix.

The County Commissioners, who serve on the Prison Board, will have to take action on the recommendation to issue a request for proposals because the Prison Board has no spending authority.

The Prison Planning Committee has held meetings in recent months with officials in Adams County, which is in the process of building a new prison.

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