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Summit shows how Franklin County's crime dollars are being spent

April 17, 2007|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - At budget time, it has become a mantra for the Franklin County Board of Commissioners to say that more than 75 cents of each tax dollar collected by the county goes to pay for crime, courts and corrections.

On Monday, at the annual Franklin County Summit, held this year at the soon-to-open Franklin County Jail, municipal officials got to see and hear how that money is spent. Representatives of the Pennsylvania State Police, the District Attorney's Office, the Court of Common Pleas, the Day Reporting Center and the county's Corrections Department spoke about their role of the criminal justice system in the $30 million building.

"This is probably the most high-tech jail in the country," Warden John Wetzel said of the 470-bed jail in the Cumberland Valley Business Park. Due to open this spring, Wetzel said the jail has more than 100 cameras to cover inmates around the clock, along with booking, medical and programming areas.

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In the jail's control center, a corrections officer zoomed in a bottle of water on a counter in a cell block. The resolution was good enough to read the label. Two inches of glass will separate visitors from inmates, preventing physical contact that recently allowed a woman visiting the old jail to pass drugs to an inmate by hiding them in her grandchild's diaper, he said.

"It's not a nice place for inmates. It's a nice place for staff," Wetzel said of the jail, which will have a staff of about 120, 5 percent more than the existing prison.

"The bottom line is public safety," Wetzel said. Money spent on the criminal justice system helps preserve the county's low crime rate and quality of life, he said.

Nationally, seven of every 1,000 people are incarcerated, compared to 5.5 per 1,000 in Franklin County, he said. In designing as small a prison as possible, alternative sentencing programs and the Day Reporting Center were taken into account, he said.

Kim Eaton, director of the center, said 2.3 percent of county residents are involved in the criminal justice system each year, compared to 3.2 percent nationally. The center benefits the county by reducing jail overcrowding and recidivism, thus saving money on the $55 a day it costs to jail one person, she said.

The center offers substance abuse counseling; testing and education; training in job, parenting and life skills; education classes; and therapy aimed at changing criminal thinking and behavior, she said.

Trooper Ed Asbury spoke about county crime statistics, telling officials the number of property crimes was 1,925 in 2005, falling to 1,888 last year. For the first quarter, there were 369, he said.

There were 881 violent crimes in 2005 and 846 in 2006, with 188 being reported so far this year, Asbury said.

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