Study advises Northampton County keep jail in Easton – Allentown Morning Call

A protracted-awaited research recommends Northampton County construct a brand new jail at its Easton courthouse campus, Government John Brown introduced Tuesday.

The $185 million plan would have the county tear down the present parking deck on Washington Road and construct a 3-story jail in its place. The power, Brown mentioned, would ditch the imposing stone partitions and barbed wire for a constructing that wouldn’t stand out from an workplace park.

“Driving by, when you didn’t understand it was a jail, you wouldn’t acknowledge it as one,” Brown mentioned of the proposal.

Although consultants estimated the county might save $6.6 million a 12 months by constructing a contemporary jail, the monetary actuality would doubtless be far much less rosy. The research failed to incorporate prices for offering extra companies to inmates, and estimated financial savings had been calculated off perfect conditions on the present jail and never the present practices.

This summer time, Brown paid the DLR Group, a jail consulting agency, $72,000 to look at whether or not the county would notice operational financial savings if it constructed a brand new jail. Its growing older construction and 19th-century design make it among the many costliest jails to run in Pennsylvania. The oldest sections of the jail date to 1871, when jails had been designed to be locations the place inmates would meditate on their sins, voluntarily or in any other case. Its slender corridors and thick inside partitions make watching the inmates tougher, requiring extra workers than trendy jails.

By comparability, Lehigh County Jail held on common 300 extra inmates in 2016, however Lehigh County spent $900,000 much less on corrections.

The DLR research discovered the county must pay not less than $80 million to renovate the jail to trendy requirements. Even then, the jail wouldn't meet necessities reminiscent of being wheelchair accessible, and air-con couldn't be put in.

As a substitute, it really helpful the county construct a brand new jail from scratch on an unnamed website or subsequent to the present jail in Easton. The brand new jail would home all elements of corrections besides the work launch program, which is run out of the West Easton Remedy Heart. Each plans would have the county buy the constructing, which is at the moment leased, and renovate it.

The brand new jail would permit the county to supply classroom house for rehabilitation efforts or job coaching inside the jail. It might additionally enhance inmates’ security and well being by creating a bigger infirmary and providing extra psychological well being companies.

Given the choices, Brown mentioned the perfect resolution is to construct on the courthouse campus. Having the jail subsequent to the courthouse would get rid of any logistical challenges of transporting inmates for courtroom appearances. It might additionally keep away from the effort of shopping for land and the inevitable battle residents would put up in opposition to a jail.

The research allowed Brown to place to relaxation rumors that the jail would wind up on the Gracedale property in Higher Nazareth Township. Neighboring residents delivered greater than ,000 signatures opposing the jail close to the county-owned nursing house, saying it will damage native property values and disrupt the neighborhood. Brown by no means formally proposed constructing the jail at Gracedale however acknowledged his administration had thought of it as a possible house because the county already owns land there.

“It’s off the desk. It is not going to be constructed at Gracedale,” he mentioned. “A lot of the advantages are right here [in Easton].”

The information was welcomed by Christine Woodmansee, one of many co-founders of the No Jail at Gracedale group on Fb. Woodmansee and different Nazareth-space residents had inundated County Council with petitions and made clear they'd keep the jail in thoughts once they voted in this 12 months’s county election.

“I’m relieved,” mentioned Woodmansee, who attended Brown’s information convention together with her three kids in tow. “I really feel higher understanding he’s made a public assertion in opposition to constructing the jail at Gracedale.”

However a brand new jail wouldn't ship the kind of financial savings the research would counsel on first learn.

DLR discovered the county must have 254 guards working the jail as a substitute of getting by with 200. The $6.6 million financial savings it estimated the county would discover relies off the 254 guard quantity, not the 200 amassing a county examine. The precise financial savings from chopping workers can be about $three.6 million.

And whereas the research made room for the county to supply extra lessons and coaching to help inmates in their rehabilitation, it didn't embody a price for offering these companies. Whereas the county has not explored what lessons it might present, they will value a whole bunch of hundreds of . For instance, an alcohol abuse therapy program the county discontinued in 2014 value about $760,000 a 12 months.

The research additionally doesn't embody the prices of razing the present jail or changing it with a brand new parking deck, which might value thousands and thousands of extra. Parking across the courthouse is restricted.

Brown defended the research, saying it was solely supposed to supply an enormous-image perspective of what the county might fairly do. He plans to current council with a extra detailed define by March that will dive into rehabilitation companies, engineering and structure, and the logistics of constructing on the positioning.

“After I come to council with a proposal, I’d prefer to have plenty of meat on the bone,” he mentioned.

To make that pitch to County Council, Brown should first win re-election. His opponent, former Northampton County Councilman Lamont McClure, has criticized the decision for a brand new jail, and he didn't change gears Tuesday.

“It’s not wanted. We are able to accommodate our present want for housing of oldsters accused and convicted of crimes domestically with out increasing for an virtually $200 million jail,” McClure mentioned.

tshortell@mcall.com

Twitter @TShortell

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Study advises Northampton County keep jail in Easton - Allentown Morning Call