County ships inmates out at a high rate

Solving the overcrowding problem in the Lycoming County prison system was the main topic of discussion at Friday’s prison board meeting.

Lycoming County paid Clinton County $16,497 to house inmates in May. The county will pay an estimated $35,000 in June, Warden Kevin DeParlos said.

Between the prison and the Pre-Release Center, the average daily population for inmates in June was 378.8. The two facilities have 392 beds between them.

“(That) 378.8 is an all-time record, looking back to 2007,” Commissioner Jeff Wheeland said. “Records are meant to be broken, but let’s not break this one.”

DeParlos said that as of Friday morning the county jail had six open beds, its four “temporary” slots were filled, and 23 inmates were in Clinton County’s correction facility. There were 25 Lycoming County inmates housed there for the last five days of June – an average of 16.5 inmates were housed out-of-county last month, with no fewer than three there on any day.

Sheriff Mark Lusk proposed that the county expand its capacity at the minimum security Pre-Release Center.

“If you give the prison study credibility, and I have no reason not to, if we build a new prison I don’t think we’ll see the PRC less full,” Lusk said. “I don’t know the classifications, but if the warden has 40,50, 60 inmates who could be PRC eligible if we had beds, we could get them over there.”

“If we had an additional 20 new beds at the PRC, we could move 20 inmates there,” DeParlos said. “We’ve been maxed out at the Pre-Release Center the entire year of 2013.”

The warden said his staff is tracking the security classification of its prisoners daily to find what sort of housing is most needed.

Commissioner Tony Mussare asked DeParlos to confirm that the majority of prisoners in the county system are there on parole violations.

“That is correct,” DeParlos said.

“Are we failing somewhere?” Mussare asked.

“Are we not monitoring them correctly, that they feel they can go out and violate? Is the way we do things too lax? Is it too convenient?”

“The vast majority of inmates in our prison are individuals who have been there before,” District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt responded. “The conversation you’re talking about is recidivism.”

Linhardt said that Judge Nancy Butts, who was absent Friday, has continued taking meetings to identify the programs to offer at a day reporting center and once those are determined, will bring a proposal to commissioners so they can decide who should provide those programs.

Day reporting should help alleviate prison crowding in two ways, Linhardt said, Because it “allows probation an alternative to putting them back in jail for technical violations,” and that the programs offered there, which might include job training, GED courses, and counseling, should serve to reduce recidivism.

“If we’re committed to spending time, resources and money on a day reporting center, it’s essential it’s done right,” Linhardt continued. “It’s only a benefit to the county if it reduces recidivism rates. Otherwise it’s just an excuse to funnel people out of prison, and we don’t want to be the community that does it that way.”

“We’re anxiously awaiting,” Wheeland said.