WESTERN PA. No opening date for new county jail

Workers are to be out of the building by month's end.
MERCER, Pa. -- There is still no date for the opening of the new county jail.
Construction of the facility on Thompson Road, Findley Township, may be completed by Aug. 31, but it will still be a few months before inmates can be moved into the facility.
Commissioner Brian Beader told Mercer County Prison Board members at their meeting Monday that the contractor says workers will be done and out of the building by the end of the month.
Beader said he doubts the work will be completed by then, but he noted that staff training in the building still must take place and the building must be fully operational.
He added that landscaping and brick work that need to be done will continue after the deadline.
Warden Jeff Gill said that his staff needs 60 days' training that some staffers will begin this week.
Commissioner Olivia Lazor said a public open house also will be held before inmates are transferred into the new facility.
Board members declined to state when they expect the jail to open.
Literacy program
The board also delayed until September's meeting a decision on whether to continue a literacy program for county jail inmates.
Gill said state Human Services Development Fund funding has been cut for a program that the local Literacy Council does for $4,250 per year. It serves 82 inmates annually. He said the Literacy Council has offered to continue the program for only $3,250.
Members discussed possible sources to replace the grant money, such as prisoner's canteen and commissary funds and even asking judges to add the cost to the fees inmates are required to pay on their own. Lazor said she does not want taxpayers to end up paying the bill.
Board members also questioned whether the program duplicates services offered by the GED program offered by intermediate Unit 4, as well as a program offered by the inmate counselor and the GED program in the house arrest program.
Commissioner Michele Brooks asked whether statistics show that the literacy program keeps inmates from re-offending by helping them find jobs. She commented that keeping even one inmate out of jail in the future would pay for the program.
Concern also was expressed over whether inmates are in the jail long enough to profit from the program or whether literacy problems should be identified and the inmates given a referral for when they are released.
Members agreed to get more information and make the decision at the next meeting.
Drunken driving
Board members also expressed concern over whether new tougher state guidelines on sentencing drunken drivers will increase the load on the county jail and house arrest programs. The guidelines could result in more prisoners in county jails, Lazor said. She added that judges have the option of sentencing more serious offenders to state facilities, which would ease the cost for the county. The first effects of the new law should be felt in Mercer County this fall, she said.
Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Mark Benedetto told members that an additional area of concern is Mercer County's 30 percent recidivism rate, which compares to 12 percent in some counties.
And Gill said a mock terrorism drill will be held at the new jail from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday.

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