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Reporting center an alternative to jail

December 31, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Plans for a day reporting center as an alternative to jail for criminal offenders in Franklin County got a boost Thursday with the announcement of a $99,900 grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

The grant will be added to $200,000 included in the 2005 budget for the center, which Warden John Wetzel said could provide an alternative to jail for up to 150 criminal offenders and defendants awaiting trial.

Alecha Sanbower, a county program planner, said the center could provide drug and alcohol and mental health counseling, education, job training and life skills training. She estimated the center will save the county "1,780 per person by keeping them out of a prison setting."

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"It's very important you only have people in jail that need to be in jail," according to Wetzel, who said the center was critical in planning for a new county prison. He said the cost of prison space for a single inmate is up to $70,000 and without the center, the county might have had to plan a new prison with up to 700 beds, rather than the 450-bed facility now planned.

The Board of County Commissioners earlier this year approved a $39 million bond issue, $30 million of which is for the construction of a new prison. Wetzel has recommended the prison be built in the Cumberland Valley Business Park on land that had once been part of Letterkenny Army Depot, but said Thursday the location has not been finalized.

Wetzel and Sanbower said they expect a director will be hired and a site selected during the first half of 2005, with the first offenders being assigned by the end of the year. Wetzel said he hopes it is operating at full capacity a few months before the new prison opens in the fall of 2006.

The existing prison complex, the main prison and prison annex on Franklin Farm Lane, has a rated capacity of less than 200, but has averaged 339 inmates per day this year. Wetzel said there are about 150 inmates in the pre-release program, many of whom could benefit from the day reporting center.

In addition to the cost of housing and providing meals to inmates, Wetzel said the county assumes other costs when someone is behind bars.

"Once someone is incarcerated, medical assistance is out the door," he said. "When people become incarcerated, it's the county's bill."

Sanbower said the county also can seek reimbursements from the state for services offenders receive at the day reporting center, which are not available if they are incarcerated. Offenders also can be charged for the services they receive, according to Wetzel.

"There are hidden dollars here that can never be counted," said Judge Douglas W. Herman, a member of the Criminal Justice Advisory Board that applied for the grant. He said the center will provide a system of "community corrections" that allows for offenders to get treatment while maintaining their jobs and staying with their families.

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