Looking For More Room At The Prison

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WILLIAMSPORT -- Lycoming County has run out of room for its prisoners and that's costing big money. Now, county leaders think they have a way to free up room at the prison until there's a permanent fix

Lycoming County's prison population spiked last year and ever since, it's cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars to house the overflow at other prisons.

On Thursday, commissioners approved hiring two new people in order to keep an eye on inmates who will be let out and monitored electronically.

County officials say the Lycoming County prison is full and every day it's costing money to keep prisoners in Clinton or Centre Counties.

One solution - a costly one - is to build a new prison and county leaders tell Newswatch 16 it would be a long-term fix but is a long-way off.

“Unfortunately the price tag is $40 million plus land acquisition, very, very expensive fix,” said Commissioner Jeff Wheeland, (R.) Lycoming County.

In the meantime, Lycoming County commissioners believe they've found a way to save money and space at the prison.

Later this year at the discretion of the district attorney and a judge, inmates who are considered non-violent will be released and technology will be the substitute for prison bars.

“Basically, putting bracelets on and confining them in their home, in lieu of incarcerating them in our prison facility,” said Wheeland.

According to county leaders, it could take three months to get the training done and the equipment needed for the bail supervision program, then at any one time, there could be 50 to 60 inmates not at the Lycoming County prison, saving much-needed space.

The idea of letting prisoners out of prison as long as they are under close watch and it saves the county money sits well with folks we spoke with.

“It might work. I'd be willing to try it,” said Manuel Barrera of Loyalsock Township. “I would hope the supervision would be pretty strict, any sign of trouble would be quickly taken care of.”

“That's fine. They don't have to be there at all, a lot of them. If they're nonviolent, they don't need to be in prison, give them rehab,” said Randy Edler of Williamsport.

The supervised release program does come at a cost. Equipment for each tracking device could run a couple thousand dollars and county officials expect to need enough to monitor roughly 50 inmates.

It's likely a few months before the changes at the Lycoming County prison go into effect.