Lancaster County a model for reducing prison population - abc27 WHTM

Lancaster County a model for reducing prison population

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Overcrowding at county prisons has imprisoned county officials financially.

Lancaster County officials have found a creative way to increase savings by decreasing the prison population.

Just a few years ago, the Lancaster County Prison was bursting at the seams with inmates. There was talk of building a new multi-million dollar prison.

Shackled by financial constraints, county officials determined there was no way they could spend that kind of money. Instead, they came up with a plan to reduce the number of prisoners.

"Two-million dollars from the costs that we used to pay Berks and Montgomery County to rent about 100 beds from each, and we don't have to do that anymore. That was our goal. It was a budgetary issue. We can't keep affording to do this," Lancaster County Commissioner Scott Martin said.

Over the last year and a half, county officials have worked together to reduce the prison population. The number of inmates went from 1,300 a year and a half ago to about 1,000 today.

Officials are not just opening the doors and letting the prisoners free. They have a very stringent process.

"Your child abusers, your rapists, your armed robbers, house burglars, murderers, those people will not have a reduction in jail," Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said, "but there are some others that we can reevaluate and say, 'Hey, maybe this bail is a little too high, or maybe we can put them on electronic monitoring instead of the prison.' And those things were amenable. We're all about doing the right thing for each case." he said.

Prosecutors are also moving cases through the system much faster.

"You process the cases faster. That means they sit in prison for less amount of time which means the taxpayers save money. It also has the added benefit of being good for justice," Stedman said.

Stedman said reducing the prison population has not caused crime to increase.

Martin said the only thing increasing is the savings to the county; more than $2 million dollars.

"But the big thing with savings at the prison is we're able to reinvest in the facility, do things to help make it safer," Martin said.

Deputy Warden Joe Shiffer said reducing the prison population is making the jail safer already.

"Roughly a 35 to 40-percent decrease in misconducts over the past year, which is outstanding. So, we're happy with the changes," Shiffer said.

"There's always a new and better way of doing things and I think a lot of it is driven by the economic environment. Over time, people said you really got to look in the mirror and do things differently. This is one of those areas," Martin said. "We could not have done it without the partners involved."

In June, Lancaster County will be given the Best Practices award because of its efforts. The award goes to counties that should be used as a model by other counties across the state.

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