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Schuylkill hires firm to update county’s prison study

Schuylkill County commissioners on Wednesday took the next step toward an intermediate punishment center to reduce the inmate population.

Commissioners hired Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates, Mechanicsburg, for $38,400 to update its 2008 prison study to determine what the county will need over the next 20 years.

The update, which will take several months, involves determining the needs of the intermediate punishment center through the review of current inmate statistics and update population projections and building program requirements.

Commissioners in June requested a proposal from the firm to do the update.

The firm’s 2008 needs assessment was “extremely accurate,” said Commissioners Chairman George F. Halcovage Jr.

“We want to make sure we’re doing this the right way, so we asked them to update that information for us, and do projections out. They are experts in this area, and will use best practices, so when we make the decision as to what to do, it will be based on good, solid information,” he said.

County engineer and real estate director Lisa Mahall has said the updated needs assessment will concentrate on properly sizing the center.

It will include research on prison population projections for five, 10 and 20 years to determine the county’s current and long-term correctional needs.

Upon completion of the assessment, commissioners will review the proposals submitted from an April request for qualifications, and move forward with the selection of a consultant for the construction, and possible operation and programming, of the center.

The county has been struggling for decades with prison overcrowding.

The state Department of Corrections in May 2016 ordered the county to stop accepting new inmates until it got the population below a daily average of 277. It lifted the restriction three months later, after the county kept the numbers down by housing inmates at other counties’ prisons.

But that temporary solution is a costly one, costing the county $65-$72 per inmate per day in addition to transportation and overtime costs.

Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates’ 2008 assessment was in anticipation of a pre-release center on a plot of land near the state prison at Frackville.

But the project turned out to cost at least twice as much as planned, and so was scrapped.

The intermediate punishment center is also known as a stand-alone sentenced inmate facility.