Franklin County's new jail will be stricter

April 29, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.-From the outside, it could pass for a high school, and it does have classroom spaces and plenty of high technology inside, but when it opens this summer, the Franklin County Jail will be home to the more than 300 men and women who, on any given day, are serving local sentences or awaiting trial.

The dedication ceremony for the $30 million jail, on Opportunity Avenue in the Cumberland Valley Business Park, will be Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.

A regimented life

Unlike Franklin County Prison, this new lockup has air conditioning, but inmates might find it less comfortable, with more regimentation than at the old prison complex, Warden John Wetzel said. Prisoners' schedules will be tight to keep them occupied, he said.

"We know that idle inmates equal headaches," Wetzel said.

High school and GED classes, life skills and job training, drug and alcohol counseling and other rehabilitation services will be available, programs many inmates will continue when released to the county's Day Reporting Center.


The heavy schedule of counseling and training, combined with that offered by the Day Reporting Center, is aimed at reducing the 58 percent recidivism rate, Wetzel said.

At 135,000 square feet, the jail is three times the size of the overcrowded prison complex on Franklin Farm Lane and can be expanded to add up to four more housing units, for a total of 700 inmates.

Once inside a housing unit, an inmate rarely will leave during his stay. From the 6 a.m. head count to lights out at 11 p.m., prisoners will sleep, eat, shower and exercise in their units, each designed to hold 64 people.

Prisoners will be housed according to classification in disciplinary, maximum security, medium security, work release or other units. There is a block for female prisoners.

Even for visitation, prisoners will remain in the units, speaking with family or attorneys via telephone through 2 inches of glass. At the existing prison, inmates and visitors are in one room and are not supposed to have physical contact, Wetzel said.

Lawyers sometimes have to confer with clients in a broom closet at the old prison, Wetzel said.

Each unit has its own exercise area, but it is not an exercise yard in the traditional sense, with a ball field and basketball hoops surrounded by fences topped by razor wire. The areas are open to the air, but with high walls topped by barred openings and a roof.

Wetzel said there will be no exercise equipment, with inmates having to walk laps or do calisthenics to stay in shape. In the disciplinary unit, exercise will be limited to one hour on weekdays and will be inside a cage called an Individualized disciplinary exercise system, unofficially referred to as "dog runs."

Inmates might watch some television, but it will be the Corrections Learning Network, which provides educational programming. A former college and semipro lineman, Wetzel does not rule out an occasional ball game, but the privilege will have to be earned.

Pushing the envelope

There will be little privacy in this high-tech hoosegow, with 115 surveillance cameras covering the building inside and out. Wetzel said he can review anything captured by any camera as far back as a month.

"We're pushing the envelope" on corrections technology, said Steve Ohm, the project manager.

"Staff efficiencies are one of the things that drove the design," Wetzel said.

One corrections officer can manage each block, using a wireless handheld device to lock and unlock cell doors, operate cell intercoms and lights, communicate with staff or summon help, if necessary.

From the time a prisoner arrives, the jail is designed to keep him or her inside its walls as much as possible, limiting transportation and, thus, opportunities for escape, Wetzel said.

Sick call

Sick, injured, contagious, addicted, suicidal and pregnant inmates will be treated and sometimes housed in the medical unit, operated by PrimeCare of Harrisburg, Pa. The infirmary has observation cells for those who are considered suicide risks, particularly during the first 48 to 72 hours of incarceration, Wetzel said.

For inmates with contagious diseases, there are negative airflow cells, Ohm said.

"Basically, your exhaust fan is on all the time," preventing contaminated air from spreading outside the cell, Ohm said.

Post-operative care, such as oxygen and intravenous treatments, can be done in the unit, limiting how long a prisoner might have to stay in a hospital and the amount of time spent guarding them, Wetzel said.

Dental examinations will be performed at the prison, but treatment is limited, Wetzel said.

"We only do extractions," he said.

Central booking

Wetzel recalled an incident a few years ago when a man bolted from police as he was being taken into the prison and later was found hiding in a garbage bin behind a convenience store. At this jail, a prisoner will find himself within a secured area the moment he arrives.

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