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High hopes and praise for new Franklin County jail

May 02, 2007|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Franklin County Jail will not be a warehouse for criminals, but "one piece of a totally revamped correctional system," County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said at Tuesday's dedication of the $30 million building.

The 470-bed jail is the biggest public works project in the history of the county and came in on time and under budget, although Warden John Wetzel said last week he did not have the final price tag. About 100 people gathered to see correctional officers unveil the building's sign while county commissioners, judges and other officials cut the ribbon to the entrance.

"First and foremost, we have to keep the county safe ... The county will continue to be tough on crime and criminals," Elliott said. However, rehabilitation services for criminal offenders will be emphasized to reduce recidivism, he said.

"We're going to do everything we can here to turn tax burdens into taxpayers," Wetzel said. Expectations are that inmates "will act as responsible adults" with rewards for good behavior and punishment for bad, the warden said.

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The county's recidivism rate is more than 50 percent, and half of the inmates do not have high school diplomas, Wetzel said. That will be available for eligible younger inmates, as well as GEDs for the others, he said.

The jail also will offer a wide range of counseling and training "to teach them to make ethical and moral decisions," Wetzel said. This will be part of a continuum of care that carries over to the Day Reporting Center the county opened last year, he said.

The goal of the education counseling and training programs is to return men and women to the community who are prepared to be productive members of society, Wetzel said.

"That's what keeps people out of jail - adequate employment," he said.

"It's fitting that this jail is right here on Opportunity Avenue," Judge Richard Walsh said of its address in the Cumberland Valley Business Park.

"It served us well during its time," Assistant Warden John Eyler said of the 35-year-old Franklin County Prison, which will be vacated sometime in the next two months.

"There are different philosophies (of corrections) today, and the inmates are different today. They're younger. They're tougher," said Eyler, who has worked at the prison since 1976.

The jail, three times larger than the prison, will allow room to classify prisoners based on their criminal behavior or other tendencies, said Michael Hardsock, a correctional officer for 25 years.

"Right now, we might have someone in for DUI next to someone in for rape," Hardsock said.

The jail will have housing units for maximum and medium security, work release and other classes of prisoners, along with a disciplinary block.

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