State to take back all of its convicts
County housed some since ’09
November 21, 2012
Since the new Butler County Prison opened on South Washington Street in 2009, the amount of income it has come to expect from boarding state and federal inmates has swollen to more than $1 million annually. Yet, Warden Richard Shaffer said a Nov. 9 notice that the state will change the way it places housed inmates doesn’t worry him. The state is planning to take back all state convicts to state prisons and send to county prisons only parole and probation violators. Shaffer said in budgeting for next year, county prison officials are expecting that the income the prison receives from housing inmates will remain the same. What the state doesn’t make up by paying per diems for probation and parole violators, Shaffer said, he hopes the federal authorities will compensate with an increase in the amount of federal inmates they house here. Susan McNaughton, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, said state-owned prisons were so overcrowded in 2009 that the state began paying prisons in 14 counties, including Butler, and Michigan and Virginia to house Pennsylvania state inmates. Since then, McNaughton said the number of state-owned beds has increased and the state prison inmate population has decreased. She said the parole process has been improved, shrinking the one-time average of 14 months that an inmate was in prison after he already had approval for parole. In the future, court officials anticipate the inmate population decreasing even further as diversionary programs such as Butler County’s Drug Court and Veteran’s Court, will keep offenders out of traditional confinement. Because of these changes, McNaughton said there’s now room in the state’s 26 facility’s for all of the sentenced inmates. Earlier this year, all of Pennsylvania’s inmates were brought back to the state. And now the state is preparing to move all of its sentenced inmates from county prisons to state-owned facilities. McNaughton said she’s not sure if the inmates will be phased out slowly of the county prisons or if the move will occur all at once. “The DOC is still developing its plan,” McNaughton said in a written response. Butler started housing state inmates in the county prison in 2010. That year, all 30 beds set aside for state inmates were filled. But in recent months, the number of state inmates has been in a downturn. There were 22 last month and 21 this month. Shaffer said as the state inmates are being removed from the county, they are not being replaced by new inmates. “I’m not sure how low they will go,” Shaffer said. “Maybe to zero.” The state pays the county $60 a day to house inmates, whether they are under sentence or incarcerated on a parole violation. Through the first eight months of 2012, the state paid the county $343,620. On Nov. 13, the county prison board voted to send three counselors to Harrisburg for special training that is being offered at no cost to county prisons that wish to accept the probation and parole violator inmates. During the training, the counselors will be taught how to present three programs that are required to be given to state prison inmates who have violated their parole: The programs are: “Back on Track Inside” a 30-session program focusing on relapse prevention;“Intensive Outpatient Program for Parole Violators” a 54-session program for parole violators who return to incarceration with a high need for alcohol or drug treatment; and “Outpatient Parole Violators Group,” a 31-session program for parole violators who return to prison with mild alcohol or drug treatment. The week-long training will be in December. “I have no idea how this change will impact the number of state inmates housed here in the future,” Shaffer said. “It could be more, if less counties complete the training. It could be less.” McNaughton said state officials cannot even say for sure how many parole and probation violators are incarcerated monthly, and therefore how many are eligible to be housed at a county prison. Either way, Shaffer said taking the cost-free training will benefit the county because the skills the counselors pick up can be integrated into a 5-month-old program at the county prison designed to help inmates succeed in the community when they are released. McNaughton said the training will cover topics such as values and personal responsibility, looking for work, goal setting, cognitive behavioral thinking, coping skills, and relapse prevention. More trainings will be scheduled in the future. And Shaffer said the status of the state inmate population in the county prison is less critical to the county prison’s bottom line now that the number of federal inmate population staying here seems to be on the rise. The county has been accepting federal inmates at a per diem of $76 since November 2010. That first year, the county prison housed two federal inmates. On Tuesday, there were 36 federal inmates. Through August, federal authorities have paid the county $503,800 to house inmates.