County prison issues need more debate, a long-term answer

Lycoming County prison population, incarceration costs and crime statistics aren’t an interesting mix of issues to consider in light of Commissioner Rick Mirabito’s recent comments that the county should consider creating a new prison.

The county has spent about $169,000 on housing female inmates out of county so far this year.

In 2010, the county spent about $150,000 on out-of-county housing, but the cost shot up to $511,531 in 2014 and $644,288 in 2015.

Since the county’s reentry program hit its stride in 2015, the prison population has steadily decreased and the the cost of out-of-county housing dropped to $354,691 in 2016.

No males have had to be housed out of county in over a year, though the female population has remained steady.

Those numbers seem to indicate that the reentry program is doing what it is supposed to do, at least from a prison population and prison cost standpoint.

But Mirabito said the county needs to look closely at the reentry program costs combined with prison population costs.

He says the county prison is “antiquated” and there aren’t enough beds for females.

He says the prison is inadequate for handling inmate mental health and addiction recovery needs.

With all that in mind, he says the commissioners should think about a new prison facility.

It’s a worthy debate to have.

But we wonder, given the trends and use of a reentry program, if the county could simply make changes to the existing prison to improve the weak points the commissioner spotlighted.

That’s a discussion that should precede talk of construction of a new prison, which was estimated to cost $40 million in 2013.