Last updated: July 01. 2014 11:20PM - 1554 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com

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Luzerne County Correctional Services Division Head J. Allen Nesbitt warned County Council members Tuesday he may be forced to request funding to house inmates elsewhere next year due to overcrowding.

The county’s prison on Water Street in Wilkes-Barre was designed to hold 505 inmates. The average daily population this year to date, according to a report he gave council’s correctional committee: January, 510; February, 505; March, 507; April, 499; May, 506; and June, 509.

Payment for outside beds was costly in the past. County taxpayers spent around $589,400 lodging inmates in other facilities in 2008 because of county prison overcrowding.

Nesbitt said he moves all qualifying inmates with lesser charges into the county’s nearby minimal offender’s building, which has a capacity of 236 and has had an average daily population ranging from 172 to 202 this year to date.

The prison has been trying to make extra money renting up to 10 beds at the minimal offender’s building to the state for inmates transitioning to release on parole, Nesbitt said. At $60 a day per inmate, the county should receive about $96,000 in revenue from the state, though the county will stop accepting these inmates if the space is needed for county inmates, Nesbitt said.

The county’s 2014 budget allocated $30.5 million for prison expenses and counts on about $552,700 in receipts. While overtime is over-budget, Nesbitt said he is optimistic he will end the year within budget overall by reducing other expenditures.

County judges and officials have embraced alternative programs that keep some offenders out of the prison, such as a day reporting center and drug court, but the prison has many violent offenders, some involved in gang activity, who must remain behind bars, Nesbitt told the committee.

County Judicial Services and Records Division Head Joan Hoggarth also updated committee members on her budget Tuesday, saying she has been reducing expenses to compensate for revenue shortfalls. The division covers the sheriff, coroner, deeds, wills and criminal and civil court records offices.

The division overall was budgeted for $5.2 million in expenses and $4.4 million in revenue, Hoggarth said.

As of May 30, the division’s revenue was at 30 percent of budget, instead of the targeted 42 percent, she said.

Hoggarth attributed the problem partially to the elimination of passports in the civil court records office due to staff reductions. The issuing of passports, which was cut because it’s a non-essential service, generated about $78,000 in revenue, she said. Hoggarth said she may recommend the hiring of an employee at a cost of $45,000, including benefits, next year to restore passport service so the county could realize a net gain around $33,000 and provide a service missed by many citizens.

The criminal records office is not meeting revenue targets because many offenders won’t pay fines, she said. Most don’t have driver’s licenses that could be revoked as punishment, and sending them to jail for nonpayment hurts the county in the end because of the prison overcrowding and $110 the county must pay per inmate each day, she said.

Revenue from deed filings also is down because of the economy, she said. However, receipts from sheriff mortgage foreclosure sales are exceeding expectations, she said.

“Where one is suffering, another is gaining. Because the economy is so poor, more are losing their homes,” she said.

Hoggarth said the division kept expenses at 32 percent of the budgeted amount through the end of May in response to lagging revenues. Some spending was avoided by not filling several positions after workers retired, she said.

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