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Carbon seeks ways to lower prison expenses

Published November 18. 2010 05:00PM

Carbon County officials are looking at ways of lowering the prison's expenses.

During the monthly meeting of the county prison board, Commissioner Wayne Nothstein asked if the board could look at the current fees being charged to inmates for room and board and doctor services, just to name a few, and see if it would be feasible to increase the rates.

"I would like to see us look at those fees and see what we can increase," Nothstein said, adding that he realizes that it is difficult to collect some of the money from some inmates, but said it is a necessity. "We should still pursue the issue to help offset our costs. They're the ones who create the problems, so let's charge them where we can. Why should the taxpayers have the burden (of paying for the inmates' services)?"

Commissioner William O'Gurek, asked for a breakdown of the current fee rates; as well as what the county brings in annually from these charges.

Currently, sentenced inmates are charged $15 a day for room and board; and any inmate who requests a non-emergency doctor's visit is charged $5 a visit.

The board discussed the rates briefly and asked if more information can be provided by the January prison board meeting so that officials can see if increasing rates will help offset some of the costs of the prison's $4 million annual expenses.

O'Gurek said the reason for looking at increasing the rates came after looking at budgets for various county departments.

"The county was talking about budgets and increasing fees for services that are provided to people in other areas and I think Charlie (Getz) brought up the issue that it's sad that we're having to charge people extra for admission to (Mauch Chunk Lake) Park, while we're up here footing the bill."

He added that higher fees are a sign of the times because prices for everything food, clothing, health care services, etc. are on the rise.

Warden Joseph Gross said that other prisons had seen a decrease in some frivolous doctor's visits when the fees were higher.

No action was taken on the matter, but further discussion is planned for a future meeting.

In other matters, the specs for a secure door, which will be used for the entrance to the Live Scan Booking Station and Commonwealth Photo Imaging Network machine are almost complete. This is the last step the county must take before the system is 100 percent operational.

Once the specs are finished by Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates of Mechanicsburg, the company that designed the prison, the county will put the project out for bid.

The Live Scan system has been operating since Oct. 1, for summons cases and Megan's Law individuals.

Last month, Deputy Warden Timothy Fritz reported that the system has been running smoothly and officers are becoming well-versed in the process.

The county prison board has been working to get the Live Scan Booking Station and Commonwealth Photo Imaging Network up and running since June 2008, when the county prison board agreed to accept the piece of machinery from the Pennsylvania Police Chiefs Association (PCPA). The cost of the equipment if purchased, would have been $66,600.

Since then, the county has had to bid out a project to run fiber optics for the system, as well as install a new underground conduit from the Carbon County Emergency Management Agency to the county prison, both located on the Broad Mountain in Nesquehoning, after learning that the current conduit that runs between the two facilities had sprung a leak and could potentially create a problem. BCI Communications of Monmouth, N.J., submitted the low bid of $27,778. This project was not in the initial setup cost estimates.

Officials also applied for a federal grant through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to cover 75 percent or $29,057 of the costs for 2011.

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