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Need seen to ease crowding at Franklin County Prison

August 09, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

The population in Franklin County Prison has risen rapidly in recent months, a situation the county is trying to ease with a proposed day reporting center.

The inmate population averaged 292 a day in February, but has increased each month since and hit 346 in July, according to the monthly report Warden John Wetzel gave the county prison board Thursday.

The highest population for any day was 375; that was 13 short of the record of 388 set in July 2002, Wetzel said.

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"Last August we were at exactly 346" for the daily average, Wetzel said.

Even with a day reporting center, where some of those convicted of misdemeanors would report instead of receiving jail sentences, the county projects it will need at least 425 prisoner beds in 15 years, Wetzel said. The figure would be 150 beds higher without a day reporting center.

The prison's rated capacity is 174 male and 26 female inmates, according to the monthly report. Prisoners are being housed in day rooms, hallways and other areas due to overcrowding.

The county is applying to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency for a grant to help fund the center, which would be run by the probation department.

Chief Probation Officer Richard Mertz told the prison board there is about $400,000 available for "re-entry programs" for the entire state. The commission plans to fund only four to eight programs.

The target date for opening the center is early next year, Mertz said. He has prepared a budget, but declined to say how much the center will cost to operate until he tells the Board of County Commissioners next week.

The department also is looking at a potential location for the center, which he said could handle about 100 offenders at a time.

"Call it incarceration within the community," Mertz said. "If you have a job, you still go to your job. If you don't have a job, you're going to learn how to get one."

Sentenced offenders would report to the center days or evenings. While there, they would be tested for drugs or alcohol, be assigned community service and receive drug and alcohol, mental health or sex offender counseling. They also could learn life skills such as job interview training, he said.

Mertz said it might mean 300 or so fewer people in prison each year, "but that's out of 3,000 commitments."

"In no way does it negate the need to build a new prison," Mertz said.

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