MERCER Committee: Inmates should pay for costs

The medical cost for inmates doubled to $17,000 last month.
MERCER, Pa. -- The Mercer County Prison Board wants to find out if it can start charging county jail inmates for medical costs and prescription medicines they must have.
Dennis Songer, board president, said Olivia Lazor, Mercer County commissioner, will chair a cost-containment committee set up by the board Monday to look at the issue.
The county is being hit with costly medical charges incurred by jail inmates, Songer said, noting that the medical bill for last month totaled $17,000, double what it was for July.
He said the committee will also look at the legality of charging inmates room and board.
Berks County on the other side of the state charges inmates for some services and Mercer may be able to do the same, he said.
"Anyone who breaks the law should pay their own way," said Lazor, contacted by phone after the meeting.
Work release prisoners in Mercer County do pay a small room and board fee, and every other inmate should be doing the same, whether they have been sentenced or have just been arrested and are awaiting arraignment, she said.
It's not fair for the county taxpayers to pick up that tab, she said. She and Songer said they didn't know whether any of those sent to county jail would be able to pay.
Overflow: Mercer County has to pay more than $50 a day to house its overflow of prisoners in other jails.
Yesterday's inmate population was 179 but the county jail holds only 114, so 65 prisoners had to be held in other jails.
That becomes very expensive, Lazor said.
The county probably couldn't charge a fee big enough to cover actual room and board costs, but it should be able to charge something plus require them to pay for their own medical expenses, she said.
New jail proposal: In other business, the prison board recommended that the county commissioners accept a state offer to sell 16 acres of land off Thompson Road to the county as the site for a new jail. The cost is $7,600.
The location is adjacent to the state's minimum-security prison in Findley Township.
Songer said final drawings for the project should be ready by the end of the year, and it should go out for bids in January.
The county is looking at a 266-bed facility at a cost of about $18 million.

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