Board votes 2-1 for jail study
TOWANDA - Bradford County commissioners voted on Thursday to hire Community Resource Services Inc. of Gettysburg to conduct a $20,000 study aimed at reducing the overcrowding at the Bradford County Correctional Facility, but one of the commissioners objected, saying the study should be done internally.
In a 2-1 vote on Thursday, the Bradford County commissioners hired the firm to conduct a study of Bradford County's criminal justice system, which will involve interviewing employees and collecting data, and which will recommend ways to reduce the overcrowding at the jail.
"We need to have a road map for the future of our jail (that will address the overcrowding), especially if we get another blast of the Marcellus Shale (drilling activity)," Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko said, explaining the need for the study.
The overcrowding has affected the county financially.
Bradford County has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars housing some of its excess prisoners in other counties' jails over the past year, said McLinko, who added that inmates, regardless of whether they are housed in the Bradford County jail or outside the county, present a substantial expense to the county.
Bradford County is still housing inmates in other county jails, although the number of them decreased recently to two, down from 17 in June, according to county officials.
A large increase in the number of people living in Bradford County, which occurred a few years ago and which resulted from a gas drilling boom, was one of the main reasons for the increase in the number of inmates at the jail, county officials have said. The use of bath salts is another reason for the increase, McLinko said.
One of the goals of the study will be to look at whether "the flow of inmates is smooth and seamless" through Bradford County's criminal justice system, from the time of arrest until the inmate is released from jail, since bottlenecks in that flow would contribute to the overcrowding, McLinko said.
The study will examine the reasons for the increase in the jail's population, identify policies and practices that could be changed that would address the overcrowding, and investigate whether there are any programs or alternatives to incarceration that could be implemented that would help solve the overcrowding problem, according to written information from Community Resource Services and Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller.
But Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith, who voted against hiring Community Resource Services, a non-profit organization, criticized the organizations's plans for the study, saying the organization would not do nearly enough to examine the county's court system and how that system is affecting the jail's inmate population.
Community Resource Services President Rod Miller's view is that he "gets lost in that data (related to the court system) and didn't want to go too far down that road," Smith added.
"To me, that (the court system) is an important part of this, especially when we're talking about managing the criminal justice system as a whole," Smith said. Smith said that he'd like to, for example, look at current sentencing practices in Bradford County courts and see how they differ from the sentencing practices that had existed locally in the past.
Smith said it would be more beneficial, and less expensive, to have the study done by county employees.
"We have the information. We have the people (to do the study)," Smith said. "We ought to be able to come up with some good solutions."
Smith said he would like to see the commissioners working on addressing the overcrowding issue with county department heads, county judges and administrators of the county court system.
McLinko said he had also had concerns about whether Community Resource Services would be examining enough data and that was why he had met with Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel in Harrisburg a couple of weeks ago. Wetzel had worked with Rod Miller in writing books in the past.
"The secretary assured us that we'll get a lot of data," McLinko said, explaining what he was told during the visit. "He (Wetzel) said that he (Rod Miller) has ways of getting in there (to get information) and that he's one of the best in the nation (for the type of work he does). I feel much better now about Rod Miller."
Commissioner Daryl Miller said, "I have all the confidence in the world" that Community Resource Services will do a good job for the county.
Miller said that having Community Resource Services do the study is a good idea because the county "will have a third party looking at things from an objective point of view. I've found in the private sector that you can be too close to things, and you may not see some of the obvious things, or may overlook them. It's good policy, every once in a while, to take a look at things from an outside point of view."
McLinko said that another advantage of the study is that research staff from the Department of Corrections will be working with Rod Miller to examine the effects of Marcellus Shale gas drilling on the county's criminal justice system, especially the inmate population at the jail. The research staff will be determining, for example, the size of the of the increase in the jail's population that resulted from the gas boom. The results from the Marcellus Shale section of the study will help the county prepare if the pace of the drilling were to return to the level that had existed in the county last year, McLinko said. The Marcellus Shale research will also help other counties when they experience an increase in Marcellus Shale drilling, he said.
The county had advertised for proposals from companies that were interested in doing the study, and two proposals, including Community Resource Services', were submitted to the county, Bradford County Chief Clerk Michelle Shedden said.
The other proposal was submitted by Carter Goble Lee of Chicago, Ill., which would have charged the county a fee that would have been between $40,700 and $59,960, she said.
Commissioner McLinko said he had erroneously stated last week that the cost of hiring Carter Goble Lee would have been $80,000.
McLinko said that Community Resource Services and Carter Goble Lee both had strong recommendations.
While Community Resource Services' written proposal to do the study is dated July 7, the company will still be able to do the study at this time, Daryl Miller said.
After the study is completed, it should be updated in the future for unforeseen changes that will affect the county's prison population, McLinko said. In the past, those unforeseen changes have included the rise locally in the use of methamphetamine and bath salts, and the gas drilling boom.
Daryl Miller said that any alternative to incarceration would only be implemented if it did not cause a security risk for residents.
"We want to be sure that people who are supposed to be in jail are in jail," he explained. People who are convicted of a crime and who pose a public safety risk need to be in jail, he said.
In a July 7 letter to the Bradford County commissioners, Rod Miller wrote that it might take Community Resource Services four to five months to do the study.
During McLinko's first term as a commissioner, the county had a similar study done of its criminal justice system that was aimed at reducing the overcrowding that had existed at that time at the county jail. The study, which was done through the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP), cost the county nothing to have done.
The CCAP study was a "boiler-plate, free study. I was not happy with it. Sometimes you get what you pay for," McLinko said.
Daryl Miller said he is not related to Rod Miller.
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: email@example.com.