The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 9, 2013

Board agrees new prison needed

By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item

SUNBURY — Fewer than two weeks after Northumberland County Commissioner Vinny Clausi revealed structural issues among others inside the 138-year-old Northumberland County Prison, the seven-member prison board on Wednesday unanimously agreed that a new lockup is needed.

Clausi on Wednesday said he was inside the prison again recently and saw a rusted steam pipe that is “ready to blow. If that happens, it will cost us millions to fix.”

President Judge Robert Sacavage, who took control of the prison board meeting, said the county needs to develop a plan for a new jail.

“We have now all agreed we need a new prison,” Sacavage said. “No one should be on a high horse. If we committed to a new prison, then let’s stick to it.”

Sacavage and Clausi are joined on the prison board by Commissioners Steve Bridy, the chairman; and Rick Shoch; District Attorney Anthony Rosini; Controller Tony Phillips; and Sheriff Chad Reiner.

National Institute of Corrections to assist

Before any ground is broken, research is needed and will be conducted free by the National Institute of Corrections.

Warden Roy Johnson agreed that a new prison is needed and that the National Institute of Corrections should be contacted.

“The fact is,” he said, “it is time.”

The National Institute of Corrections “will find all the problem areas,” Johnson said. “They take long hard looks at what is going on and they come up with answers and they are not affiliated with anyone so the results are not tainted.”

The National Institute of Corrections’ Technical Assistance Program responds to the needs, problems and individual requirements of state and local correctional agencies, according to its website.

The National Institute of Corrections includes onsite guidance, support, consultation or training provided by an experienced technical resource provider or staff member who serves in an advisory capacity and works with agency staff.

Bridy said the group usually comes and works in the prison for about 48 hours.

Clausi told Sacavage he wants to move forward before anything severe happens at the aging prison.

“He is right,” Johnson said. “He is saying things that I am on board with. This prison isn’t going to fall over tomorrow, but I can’t say it will be here for another 10 years, so I agree with Commissioner Clausi. We need to move forward.”

Sacavage said he would like to see what other “tools” are available for the county.

“Day-reporting centers, pre-release centers and anything else we can look at,” Sacavage said. “When the NIC was here 10 years ago they recommended a pre-release center.”

Commissioner Rick Shoch agreed.

“We need to look at all the tools,” he said. “Then we can come forward with a comprehensive approach.”

More than 200 in lockup each day

A pre-release center would eliminate a large part of the prison population, Johnson said, which averages more than 200 inmates a day.

Said Sacavage: “Once these guys are out working, they will be paying to be released. I even saw where some places even have inmates washing their own clothes and using the pay machines.”

Pleased with the board’s decision, Clausi said he wants to see things move forward.

“We have made progress already by all agreeing,” Sacavage said. “This is the best start I have seen in many years.”

Snyder County Commissioner Malcolm Derk attended the meeting to hear what the county planned to do with building a new structure, he said.

“I was asked by my board to come to this meeting and listen,” Derk said. “We work with the county often when it comes to housing inmates.”

The reason for his crusade, Clausi said, was because “we need to protect our taxpayers money.

“And if something seriously bad were to happen at the prison, it will cost us millions.”

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