The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Rave

April 13, 2013

Time time to study prison plan

Northumberland County taxpayers should thank District Attorney Anthony Rosini for advising deliberation and study during a recent meeting of the county prison board as officials weigh a $30 million to $60 million prison project.

While it is clear that the county needs a new prison, it is also clear that the county is neck-deep in debt, thanks to the long-gone, but not fondly remembered Allen Cwalina-Chap Lewis administration.

Commissioner Vinny Clausi, who has worked hard to improve the county's fiscal health, proposes getting around the lack of cash by floating bonds to pay for a 300- or 600-bed prison and paying off the debt by housing prisoners for the federal government and for other counties.

Sounds good, but Northumberland County has already tried that -- twice. The site of the county administration building was once a juvenile detention center, then a women's prison. Both were expected to be profitable ventures for the county. Neither was.

Prisons have proven to be burdens, not businesses. Let's hear more details about why it would work better this time.

Commissioner Clausi proposes to locate the new prison near the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township.

Why?

The commissioner says the reason is simple, prison infrastructure is already in place there. Surely there are sites much closer to the county courthouse with sufficient infrastructure. One of those sites would save money on prisoner transportation costs.

Part of the rush to build a new prison comes from the recent rash of lawsuits filed against the county by inmates of the existing jail at 39 N. Second St. in Sunbury. Commissioner Clausi fears that a judge might close the county prison, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for housing more than 200 prisoners in other county jails.

District Attorney Rosini suggests the county put together a 10-year plan for a new prison. That would afford the county time to improve its finances, find a suitable site and plan for the closing of the current prison.

A state or federal judge is not likely to burden an already financially troubled county further if its leaders are taking credible steps to meet the needs of both inmates and taxpayers in a prudent manner.

Now that the Northumberland County commissioners are on the right track, take time to get the judge, sheriff, district attorney and controller on board for the prison they will have to govern once it is built.

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