Wheeland: Day reporting center could ease overcrowding

With 2,500 commitments to the Lycoming County Prison every year, and more than 1 percent of the county’s population in county and state prisons, a solution is necessary as prison overcrowding continues, said Commissioner Jeff Wheeland at Monday’s Williamsport Rotary Club meeting at the Genetti Hotel.

Compounding the issue is the area’s growing drug problem adding to those numbers – 95 percent of incarcerations are directly or indirectly related to drugs, including alcohol, Wheeland said.

The number of heroin-related cases has jumped this year to a “significant number” compared to other years, said Warden Kevin DeParlos.

All of this calls for a solution, he said.

An expensive new prison should be the last alternative after all others are explored, Wheeland said.

“Before we build a new prison, we should explore the other possibilities,” he said.

The commissioners continue to look into a day reporting center as a viable alternative, which could lessen overcrowding and its associated costs, along with reducing recidivism rates, the rate at which people return to prison.

In 2012, of the $7.1 million prison and pre-release center budget, more than $330,000 was spent on out-of-county housing costs for inmates when there aren’t enough beds available here, Wheeland said. It jumped from $7,553 spent in 2011.

A day reporting center could free up some of those beds for non-violent offenders and give them tools to acclimate and succeed in society, he said.

One listener asked what will happen in two years if the costs take up half of the budget.

“We don’t control the prison population; we get the cards dealt to us,” Wheeland said.

The prison study the county completed last year provides a baseline for future boards of commissioners to use and project needs, he said.

DeParlos said in 2012, the overcrowding numbers exceeded the last highest population in 1998.

“As a result, the system is working hard and the commissioners expanded the bail release program to add 30 additional beds in the prison starting in July,” DeParlos said.

More work needs to be done to address the overcrowding problem, he said.

When asked about employer outreach to those re-entering society in the county, Wheeland said inmates at the pre-release center can get their GEDs and enter a work release program.

DeParlos said not being able to find work can lead to greater recidivism rates.