FOR LUZERNE County residents who remember the county prison’s shameful past — an escapees sheet rope dangling from a window, piecemeal purchasing of inmate food that skirted state bidding laws — the reaction to County Manager Robvert Lawton’s notion of building a new prison is almost surely luke-warm at best.
Well … it may be a good idea …. but …
But we already had a few profligate prior county commissioners blow $1.3 million on a new prison design that never left the dream stage.
But we’ve been struggling with nearly $500 million in debt for years, and still can’t quite seem to get the budget on an even keel.
But we have no credit rating thanks to our debt mess (see first two “buts”).
But even if we overcome all the other obstacles and build a new prison that lets the county use fewer guards to watch the same number of inmates, we need to negotiate a contract that allows such a staffing cut.
But do we really need another empty county building on the market? is there much demand for a five-story prison?
And then there’s the horror of the “kids for cash” scandal spawned by court-ordered closing of a county juvenile detention center in favor of a for-profit facility.
In an ideal world, Lawton’s theory — a new, smartly designed prison next door to a building housing all the components of criminal court, makes good sense.
There would be a serious concern not only about unloading the old prison, but also about selling the Penn Place building that would presumably be emptied as county offices are shuffled around.
And Luzerne County politics have proven far removed from any “ideal” world.
Past is not always prologue. Yet in this case, the past weighs heavily on such a massive prison project. Lawton needs to tread cautiously through a minefield laid by his predecessors.
If Lawton can conduct a useful prelimnary feasability study on the cheap, he should do it.
The slightest misstep will bring howls from taxpayers.