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Prison numbers on rise, warden says

Warden John Wetzel attributed the higher number of inmates to the increase in the length of time inmates are staying at the jail

Warden John Wetzel attributed the higher number of inmates to the increase in the length of time inmates are staying at the jail

January 10, 2003|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County Prison housed a record number of inmates in 2002, despite a decline in the population in December.

The average daily population for the year was 341 inmates, although it peaked at more than 380 last summer, Warden John Wetzel reported to the county Prison Board Thursday.

"We ended the year on a low note with the population of 289. But the population is creeping back up," he said. The prison was designed to accommodate 244 inmates.

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The annual average of 341 is 23 inmates higher than last year's, a fact Wetzel attributes to an increase in the length of time inmates are staying in the jail.

In addition, females now make up 13 percent of the prison population, a record high, Wetzel said.

"That is still lower than the 15 percent national average," he said.

Members of the community Criminal Justice Advisory Board agreed in November to continue studying solutions to the overcrowding situation at the jail as well as ways to address an overall drug and alcohol problem.

Consultants predict the inmate population will continue to grow every year and reach 636 inmates by 2020.

Any decision on building a new prison or a day-reporting center/halfway house, which would decrease reliance on the jail, is months away.

The average daily population has climbed steadily after hovering in the low- to mid-200 range for most of the 1990s. It reached 281 in 1999, broke 300 in 2000, hit 318 in 2001 and reached 341 in 2002, according to prison statistics.

In addition, Wetzel said he will head to New England next week to look at successful job industries in place in prisons in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Wetzel has proposed that Franklin County come up with a program that would put more inmates to work in the prison, which would reduce idleness and improve productivity and an inmate's chances of finding employment upon release.

Wetzel will report to the Prison Board at its next meeting, Feb. 6, at the prison.

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