County Investigating Cause of Prison Overcrowding

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WILLIAMSPORT -- A number of county prisons in our area have been dealing with overcrowding. That is nothing new.

For the prison in Lycoming County it is something new and a bit of a surprise to local leaders.

Lycoming County has won award after award even as recently as June for keeping its prison population under control.

Then, for some reason the number of inmates spiked around that same time, meaning Lycoming County will suddenly have to pay up to have prisoners housed in other counties.

The Lycoming County prison in downtown Williamsport can hold just shy of 400 men and women at any one time.

Up until the past several months there has been enough room, said officials.

That is not the case anymore, according to officials at the prison who said nearly 40 inmates are staying in prisons in neighboring counties.

"We're befuddled," said Lycoming County Commissioner Jeff Wheeland

Wheeland showed off awards the county won in recent years for keeping the prison population in check. Wheeland heads the prison board and said that success was due in part to programs like family court and drug court that keep offenders out of prison.

Then, inexplicably, the numbers jumped in the middle of this year.

"It's all over the board, simple assaults, aggravated assaults, D.U.I.'s. It was a tsunami that hit us," said Wheeland.

Wheeland said a task force made up of the courts, prosecutors and probation will look into the cause of the overcrowding and a possible solution at the prison.

In the meantime, the overcrowding is costing the county.

"We're in excess of $100,000 to house these prisoners outside Lycoming County," said Wheeland.

Sending so many prisoners to other counties was not in the budget and it will come out of the rainy day fund, according to officials.

The increase in inmates cannot be blamed on a population boom thanks to the natural gas industry, added Wheeland.