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Officials debate date of opening new jail



Published: Wed, July 27, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



One of them wondered if construction workers are delaying the project.

By MARY GRZEBIENIAK

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

MERCER, Pa. -- Mercer County Commissioner Olivia Lazor said Monday she won't stand for pushing back the opening of the new Mercer County Jail until October.

It had been hoped the facility would open by September. But Commissioner Brian Beader had recently commented that the opening might not take place until October.

Lazor said, "I'm not going to tolerate that."

She commented that the county is paying to house 100 prisoners at other jails and said the delays in the jail opening are "nuts."

She questioned whether construction workers are finishing as quickly as they can or whether they are working at other job sites. She said they have to be pushed to finish the job as soon as possible.

Lazor made the comments at the Monday meeting of the Mercer County Prison Board, which could not take place because no quorum was reached. Only Lazor and District Attorney James Epstein, who is board president, attended the meeting. Commissioner Michele Brooks arrived a half hour late. Epstein said many of the other prison board members were out of town or otherwise unavailable. He said the meeting may be reconvened later this week.

Epstein agreed with Lazor, stating, "We will all work as hard as we can to make sure it will be before October."

New facility

The new jail, located on Thompson Road, Findley Township, passed a state Department of Labor and Industry inspection recently, which was one of the hurdles remaining before the opening.

Once construction is complete, a final cleaning of construction debris from the facility must take place. Staff must then undergo training. An open house is also planned before moving in inmates. Lazor said Monday that maybe the open house could be held in only one or two of the completed portions of the jail to demonstrate how prisoners will be housed.

The jail opening cannot come soon enough. Jail Warden Jeffrey Gill reported that this month was the jail's busiest ever as far as the number of prisoners being housed and that the county registered its highest count ever with 234 prisoners on the rolls at one point.

That includes prisoners housed in Mercer County as well as those the county is paying to house elsewhere. Monday's count was 214, with 88 of those prisoners housed in Mercer County. Gill said the average is 180. The new jail will house 280 prisoners.

Gill said he could see no particular reason for the spike in the number of prisoners except that there are seasonal variations.




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