County considering plan to build a new $40 million prison

Lycoming County is considering a $40 million plan to build a new county jail outside the city.

Prison construction consultants Carter Goble Lee and Ebensburg architecture firm L.R. Kimball presented a design to the county Prison Board Friday morning for a 538-bed, one-floor facility that combines the county prison and Pre-Release Center at one site.

The plan projects 23-percent growth in Lycoming County’s inmate population over the next 15 years and calls for a new, combined 348-bed jail and 190-bed PRC.

The county prison, at 277 W. Third St., has 255 beds and no room for expansion. The Pre-Release Center (PRC) at 546 County Farm Road, Montoursville, has 137 beds.

One possible location for a new prison is on land already owned by the county at its farm complex, which is home to several county offices, the county department of public safety and the PRC.

Lycoming County Commissioner Jeff Wheeland said he didn’t know what would become of the existing prison, but indicated that the PRC could not be incorporated into a new structure because of the building’s inefficiencies.

The consultant’s study estimates that in 2027 the average daily inmate population between the prison and PRC will be 468. The county’s average daily population this past year was 380.

Average inmate population has grown by 11 percent since 2000.

The proposed design has a total square footage of 173,738 feet, with 128,125 square feet devoted to the prison.

“Three years from the time you say go is probably the minimum building time,” CGL vice president Robert Goble said.

That time frame does not account for acquiring land, which is not included in the $40 million cost estimate.

Wheeland said the county is not locked into the consultant’s recommendations.

“We’re going to explore all other options before we resort to bricks and mortar,” he said, noting incarceration alternatives like electronic monitoring and a day reporting center may impact any decision.

He said the court system and the district attorney will play a large part in how the county moves forward.

“They spend the money and give us the bill. That’s just the way the system is,” Wheeland said.

Capacity in any new facility must account for peaks in population and separating inmates according to their sex and security classifications, CGL planner Aaron Baggarly said.

“We all know you have peaks and valleys in the jail population,” Baggarly said. “You might have a 10-percent peak for a major crackdown a 15-percent peak above your highest average (inmate population) should be expected.”

“The design is based on a direct supervision model, with an officer in the unit,” Jack King of L.R. Kimball said. “Many services will be brought to individual units, like visiting, and there are separate exercise yards. That reduces security risks and the need for some personnel.”

The one-floor plan is less costly to build per square foot and increases efficiency in moving prisoners for a potential personnel cost savings of 15 percent, Goble said.

Combining kitchens, laundry and other services into one unit might also eliminate duplication of services, Wheeland said.

The proposal estimates that at full capacity the 528 bed facility will require 161 full-time employees, or 3.26 staff per bed. The jail and PRC now employ 120 full-time – an average of 3.25 staff per bed.

“We estimate over a 10- to 15-year period that construction cost will only be about 10 percent of cost to the county,” Goble said. “That should get you something that for 40 to 50 years shouldn’t need replacement.”

“I like that it’s expandable,” Wheeland said. “The initial idea for the (existing prison) was to build it so three or four floors could go on top a previous board of commissioners eliminated that.”

Wheeland asked the consultants if Lycoming County’s incarceration percentage per capita is unusual.

“In the United States the average incarceration rate is 768 per 100,000 of population in some kind of criminal commitment,” Baggarly said.

“You’re right in that 700 range.”

Opened with just 82 inmates in early 1986, the existing prison was built at a cost of about $28 million.

Staff reporter Matt Hutchinson contributed to this report.