MIFFLINTOWN - The Juniata County Prison Board continues to wrestle with whether or not to shut down the prison.
The aging prison was built in 1833 and currently houses 30 male inmates and employs 21-full and part-time workers.
Juniata County Commissioner Jeffrey Zimmerman was adamant in insisting the board has made no final decision regarding the fate of the prison.
During Monday's board meeting, commissioner Teresa O'Neal presented a cost benefit analysis on closing the prison. Using data from 2011, O'Neal's analysis points to an estimated $617,000 in annual savings based on the most recent $1.4 million budget.
O'Neal has been serving as interim warden at the prison since the board unanimously voted to release Thomas Lyter from the position in December 2011. O'Neal announced she would resign from that position by July 9. Lyter still serves as Sheriff of Juniata County.
Many of the board members have voiced some concerns about closing the prison, including President Judge Kathy A. Morrow who during Monday's meeting encouraged the board to have a "neutral assessment" done on the proposal to close the prison, along with the other options on the table.
Morrow said she has not heard any positive reaction from the community on the proposal to close the prison.
Some of the negative feedback from the community has come in the form of letters and emails addressed to Morrow. In addition, many people in the community have been posting their opinions on the matter on the Facebook page entitled "Keep Juniata County Prison Open."
In moving forward, Morrow stressed the need to research options and not put the "cart ahead of the horse." Morrow also said she felt the recent cost benefit analysis on closing the prison, completed in about 60 days, may have been rushed.
O'Neal said it was important to look at the bigger picture when it comes to the prison, because it's an issue of safety and security for both inmates and corrections officers.
O'Neal also noted that the current prison is limited in what types of educational programs they can offer to inmates, in an effort to help re assimilate them back into society.
O'Neal said it was important to balance the needs of inmates and fiscal responsibility.
Morrow agreed that the conditions at the prison were not optimal for the staff nor the inmates and at one point went as far as to call the conditions "horrendous."
Juniata County District Attorney Cory Snook said he would like to see a cost benefit analysis done on all seven options put forth by the board. Snook made a motion to have those options examined more closely.
The motion passed with Snook, Mifflin County Treasurer Sandra King, Morrow and Lyter voting in favor, while commissioners O'Neal, Zimmerman and Robert Reynolds were opposed.
The seven options are as follows:
* Keep the prison as is with an estimated operating cost of $1.4 million and hire a full-time or part-time warden.
* Close the prison and house inmates in other county facilities at an estimated cost of $816,000. O'Neal would continue serving as interim warden.
The costs associated with the following options, have yet to be determined.
* Keep the prison open, hire a warden and immediately start planning for major renovations.
* Keep the prison open, hire a warden and immediately start planning for the construction of a new facility at the same location.
* Keep the prison open, hire a warden and immediately start planning for a new facility at a new location.
* Continue operation of the current prison, hire a warden and immediately start planning for modular units at present location (vacant lot on Third Street).
* Continue operation of the current prison, hire a warden and immediately start planning for modular units at new location.