MIFFLINTOWN - The majority of the Juniata County Prison Board continues to grasp at straws in an effort to stop the county commissioners from closing the prison.
The board voted on a motion Monday recommending the commissioners reconsider closing the prison, but the 4-3 vote appears to have fallen on deaf ears. The prison employs 21 full- and part-time workers and currently houses 31 inmates.
Juniata County District Attorney Cory Snook said on Tuesday the decision by the board "is not binding" and the commissioners don't have to follow the recommendation.
Snook voted in favor of the recommendation, along with Juniata County Treasurer Sandra King, Juniata County Sheriff Tom Lyter and President Judge Kathy Morrow. Commissioners Teresa O'Neal, Jeff Zimmerman and Bob Reynolds were opposed. A vote during a previous prison board meeting had the exact same 4-3 decision on a motion to have a cost/benefit analysis done by an independent person on each of the seven possible options for the prison.
To date, only one of the possible options has been researched for the purposes of a cost/benefit analysis. The cost/benefit analysis that used data from 2011, pointed to an estimated $617,000 in annual savings, based on the most recent $1.4 million budget.
During their July 3 meeting, the commissioners cast a unanimous vote to close the prison and house inmates at the Mifflin County Correctional Facility. The prison is no longer taking new inmates. Under the agreement between Mifflin County, inmates will be housed at a cost of $55 per day per inmate. That rate will increase to $62 in 2013, $65 in 2014, $68 in 2015 and $70 in 2016.
There is a clause built into the contract that allows Juniata County to rescind the agreement with one year's notice if the county decides to renovate the existing prison or build a new one.
During the same meeting on July 3, commissioners voted on a memorandum of understanding with the two unions representing workers at the prison. Under the agreement, eligible employees would receive C.O.B.R.A. benefits and severance pay.
During miscellaneous court proceedings on Tuesday, Judge Kenneth A. Mummah vented some frustration on the closure of the prison when defense attorney Steven Manbeck requested a client serve out a sentence locally.
Mummah said he had no control over that in light of the commissioner's decision to close the prison.
"I know what you are about to say, but people who know nothing about the judicial system make the decisions," Mummah said as he interrupted Manbeck mid-sentence.
Following a court recess, Snook said Lyter is looking into purchasing a van for the county to transport prisoners but said it could take some time because the van has to be specially made, so as to address a specific set of safety and security concerns.
"It would've been better if these things were in place before (beginning to close the prison)," Snook said.
Snook also said he was concerned about the strain he feels closing the prison will put on the Juniata County Probation and Parole Department, as well as the sheriff's department.
Snook said there are four adult probation officers and one officer that specifically oversees juvenile cases. Having to transport someone who has violated their probation or parole to another county could stretch the department too thin, especially since there is a policy in place requiring at least two officers are present when transporting a detainee.
Following the Juniata County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, commissioners confirmed Lyter was researching transportation options for prisoners.
Reynolds said that although there is no current plan to hire more officers for the probation and parole department that issue would be looked at if the need arises.
O'Neal said she attended a very positive meeting with court officials and law enforcement on Monday afternoon and that everyone is working together to get through the transition.
No set date is in place on when the prison will close and the commissioners have said throughout this process that it would not "happen overnight."