The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

June 11, 2013

Snyder County officials mull prison's future

— MIDDLEBURG — Snyder County officials are taking a hard look at how they incarcerate criminals.

The prison board is reviewing all options, from renovating the existing jail on Old Colony Road near Selinsgrove to building a new facility or closing it and housing inmates elsewhere in a move to reduce recidivism and expenses and increase efficiency.

“It’s no secret we have a problem at the prison. Obviously, there are weaknesses, and we need more resources,” said county District Attorney Michael Piecuch, referring to three cases involving illegal drug smuggling among inmates in the past year. “We need a long-term strategic plan.”

Commissioners Joe Kantz, Malcolm Derk and Peggy Chamberlain Roup agree that all alternatives will be considered but each has a preference.

“There are certain limitations. It’s not the best design for a jail,” said Derk, chairman of the prison board, which oversees the $3 million-a-year jail operation.

Part of the problem is the 138-bed facility wasn’t built to house convicted male and female offenders, but to serve residents of the Selinsgrove Center.

But building a new jail isn’t on his list. Instead, Derk would prefer more home confinements with electronic monitoring for nonviolent criminals and inmates participating in the work-release program.

Not only would it save money, he said, but it likely would lessen the chances of contraband making its way inside the jail.

“The prison is managed pretty well, but we can’t continue to have the problems we’ve had without looking at options,” Kantz said.

He’d like to see a regional approach to housing inmates, saying “it alleviates a whole lot of headaches.”

Closing the county jail isn’t an option for Roup, who opposes housing county inmates in other facilities as too costly.

“I don’t think we can afford to outsource,” she said.

Instead, Roup believes creative programs, such as Union County’s day reporting center for low-risk offenders, may be a better approach.

Warehousing inmates isn’t working to break the cycle of criminal activity, she said, so programs designed to help them find a job or keep them employed and out of jail have to be identified.

“There are so many options,” Derk said. “It’s just about finding the model that works best for us.”

It’s not likely a decision will be made soon. Even as the prison board considers its inmate housing options, the county is moving forward with $100,000 in camera surveillance upgrades inside the jail.

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