Lancaster County could have a new jail operational and as soon as late 2026, according to the project timeline, County Commissioner Ray D’Agostino presented at a prison board meeting on Thursday.

The presentation did not delve into the details of the next phase, the design of the facility, but the timeline indicates that the commissioners will form a design advisory committee this summer.

On Thursday, commissioner Josh Parsons said commissioners did not yet have any details to share about the design committee, including who might be on it.

The commissioners again acknowledged at Thursday’s meeting that the public will be able to contribute to the design process.

D’Agostino and Parsons outlined plans at Thursday’s meeting to hire an “owner’s representative” for the entire project, to guide the more than $100 million company through the design, build and build phases. land development and construction.

“When you look at the scale of a project like this, probably the largest in county history, when you’re looking at all the different services and steps involved, you need someone dedicated – someone one that basically goes to eat, sleep, breathe and drink this project,” D’Agostino said.

Commissioners will vote to approve a request for proposals, starting this month, to select the representative, D’Agostino said at the prison board meeting.

Democratic County Commissioner John Trescot joined Republican counterparts D’Agostino and Parsons in his first prison board meeting on Thursday.

Prison reformers make demands

Several activist and advocacy groups were on hand Thursday to present recommendations for the design of the new prison, most of them centered around expanded programs for future inmates, including more rehabilitation, health mental, recreational, vocational skills and educational services, in tandem with larger criminal justice reforms to completely limit people’s imprisonment.

Jean Bickmire, president of the advocacy group Have a Heart for People in the Criminal Justice System, presented a 21-page report to the Corrections Commission, setting out detailed policy prescriptions that strive to treat the county’s prison population with more dignity and humanity, and to move away from the unprecedented incarceration rates that prevailed across the country in the 1990s and 2000s.

“We want people to feel valuable, even if they go to jail,” Bickmire said Thursday.

The prison’s biggest mission should be to connect inmates to services and resources that will help them reintegrate into society so they’re ready to lead productive lives, according to Bickmire.

“The environment in which one resides is a key factor in people’s belief in themselves and influences their behaviors,” the report says. “The building should not contribute to the punishments inmates face while incarcerated. Being separated from family and society in general is their punishment.

The report cites recommendations from a Miami-based consulting firm, CGL, which works in the development and management of correctional facilities. They include more natural light in the prisons, access to fresh air, and views of the surrounding nature to improve emotional well-being.

Other policy prescriptions from the Have a Heart report include:

  • Cell blocks, or pods, organized to serve different populations as needed, and cells with no more than two people assigned to them. Single cells are ideal.
  • Hot showers with privacy doors.
  • A center for work release programs.
  • A medical unit specifically for female prisoners.
  • A dental unit.
  • Spaces for wellness activities like yoga and exercise.
  • A dedicated library area with a larger set of books.
  • A legal library accessible beyond digital tablets.
  • Courtrooms for court cases and space for visiting lawyers.

Bickmire also cited CGL work that says a single correctional facility cannot adequately serve more than 1,000 people.

Greg Newswanger, a city resident and Lancaster Friends Quaker Meeting member, pointed to a planned facility in the New York borough of Manhattan that would only have 886 beds. A new borough-based prison plan calls for a total of 3,300 beds for the entire city of 8.8 million.

“Certainly, we don’t need (a prison) bigger than what Manhattan is planning,” Newswanger said. The Friends of Lancaster criminal justice and policing group was among several faith groups and activists who supported the Have a Heart report.

In previous public comments, Lancaster County Executive Cheryl Steberger called for the new facility to have some 1,200 beds, far more than the current facility’s daily population, which has hovered between 700 and 800 this year. That’s a sharp decrease from a decade ago, when some 1,300 people accused or convicted of crimes were housed in the current five-storey prison.

A surplus of beds would allow officials to better sort and move inmates, Steberger said in December. She cited the COVID-19 pandemic and chickenpox outbreaks in the current prison as reasons to provide more space than today’s daily prison population.

Financial movements prepare the project

Thursday’s prison board meeting was the first to dig into new details about the next steps in the development of the new jail since the county closed on 78 acres of land in Lancaster Township, the future site of the new facility. . County officials purchased the property from the Kreider family for $3 million. The previous owners used the land as a farm and vacation spot.

They will continue to use the property as they have until construction begins, D’Agostino said. The county negotiated a rent-free lease with the Kreiders, who agreed to hold the property until construction began, according to D’Agostino.

The County Board of Commissioners also moved forward this year in funding ongoing efforts to build a new jail.

In January, they approved the creation of a new capital improvement fund, money set aside for maintenance, repairs, property and construction of $50,000 or more. An initial injection of $13.3 million from the general fund will be matched by federal stimulus funds.

And last week, commissioners approved a transfer of $500,000 from the fund to cover initial development and maintenance expenses for the old property before construction begins, scheduled for summer 2024, according to the schedule. made public on Thursday.

County Budget Services Director Patrick Mulligan told a meeting of commissioners last week that cost estimates for the new jail site included $375,000 for “preliminary site development costs.” , $100,000 for the county owner’s representative, and the remaining $25,000 for securing the site. with fences and panels, for example.

On Thursday, D’Agostino said preliminary costs could include hiring an architect this year.

A priority list of planned expenditures eligible for the capital fund includes several items related to the new prison site. They include the $3 million purchase of the 78-acre property, $100,000 for design and development of a new prison this year, and another $500,000 for design and development next year.

The listing also shows an additional $4.5 million for design and development split between 2023 and 2026, potentially paid for with a bond sale. A $100 million line item for building the prison in 2026 is also on the list, potentially paid for by bonds.

Counties and local governments can “sell” bonds to investors, essentially a large loan for long-term projects. They in turn must repay investors with interest, usually over many years.


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