The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

June 14, 2013

Snyder County considers new jail

Prison board urged to go slow

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

MIDDLEBURG —  “Unsustainable” is how Snyder County District Attorney Michael Piecuch described the county jail as members of the prison board agreed to develop a strategic plan for the future of the 138-bed facility.

At Thursday’s public meeting, board members discussed a need to consider alternatives for housing county inmates. Currently, the county spends about $3 million a year to run the jail outside of Selinsgrove.

Commissioner Peggy Chamberlain Roup said the jail serves only as a “revolving door” for offenders who keep coming back, in part, due to a lack of programs designed to educate and counsel.

“We all have to put our heads together and think of a better way,” she said, lauding Union County’s new Day Reporting Center that provides educational and training services to nonviolent offenders rather than keeping them locked up daily.

“Recidivism rates go down when inmates have an opportunity to improve themselves. I know we don’t offer enough programs and part of the reason for that is because of the jail itself,” Piecuch said, referring to the former Selinsgrove Center facility built in the 1950s that was later converted to a jail for males and females.

Whatever decision is made, whether its closing the jail and sending inmates to another county, renovating the existing facility or building a regional jail with neighboring counties, Commissioner Joe Kantz urged the board to proceed slowly.

“We need to take a comprehensive approach,” he said. “Any change will not be overnight.”

Northumberland County’s prison board is also reviewing alternative ways of housing inmates and one of its board members reached out to Snyder County about building a regional prison, an issue they’ve discussed occasionally over the years.

Snyder County prison board member Robert Cravitz mentioned that during a recent visit with the neighboring county’s prison board, Northumberland County Commissioner Vinny Clausi indicated he would be receptive to regionalization.

“As long as (a regional prison) is in Coal Township, right?” Piecuch said.

The board did agree to take a first step toward developing a strategic plan by examining the cost of sending inmates to other jails. The idea was considered by former county officials years ago, but it wasn’t financially feasible at the time.

“Let’s just explore the possibility and see if it’s worthwhile,” Kantz said.

Following a 50-minute executive session, the board also agreed to spend about $100,000 updating security cameras at the jail to address security weaknesses.