Members of the Northumberland County Prison Board took that first step last week. The board realized the facility is too old and too crowded to be a functional facility in the 21st century. Recognition is the first step on the road to recovery.
The board acknowledged the necessity, because as warden Roy Johnson said last week the more than century-old prison "isn't going to fall over tomorrow, but I can't say it will be here for another 10 years."
So Northumberland County now has a ticking clock on the project and that clock is full of dollar signs no one wants to invest and everyone has been trying to avioid.
Board member and the county President Judge Robert Sacavage said, "We have all now agreed we need a new prison … If we committed to a new prison then let's stick to it."
That led to the county's second breakthrough on the road to recovery -- acknowledging the problem, or in this case the project, is bigger than you. Northumberland County will bring in the National Institution of Corrections to offer help and expertise.
Unlike the county prison board, made up of a varied group of officials ranging from commissioners to the controller that are not trained in how to run a prison, the NIC specializes in finding solutions to complicated problems in those very instances. It is an independent group that will over common-sense solutions on how to proceed.
Local officials acknowledge everything is on the table because of the size of the stakes. Something needs to be done and if it means spending untold millions of dollars of taxpayers' money, it needs to be done right the first time.
So after some painful and expensive experiences with inmate lawsuits and staff disruptions, the official consensus is heading in the right direction. Any unpopular public project of this magnitude is bound to have rough spots. But it also has some promise that can also be acknowledged in order to be realized.
In Northumberland County, officials and the public alike have delayed a introspective assessment of the social responsibilities and restorative expectations implied by the term "corrections."
In a better, more efficient place, the county round out the project with professional expectations and compensation for the staff and approaches that insure the visitors will exit on time, with less chance of a return visit.