YORK -- Construction started this week on a new prison in York County, which is expected to alleviate crowding in the county's jail.
York County expects construction on the new 256-bed prison to be completed by October. It'll more than double the capacity of the current minimum-security prison behind the Moss Justice Center, Assistant County Manager Anna Wilson said. The prison houses people who have been sentenced.
This plan also will make more room for inmates in the typically over-capacity detention center who are waiting for a day in court.
Here's a look at the issue:
The packed prison
The York County Prison houses 120 county and state inmates. Inmates in the 14-year-old men's facility are used as an additional labor force for the county's Public Works Department.
County inmates serve less than three-month sentences from family court, general sessions, magistrate and municipal court, while state inmates are serving longer sentences from general sessions court.
The prison also operates a work-release program for those individuals who have been sentenced for neglecting to pay child support.
The number of inmates fluctuates for several reasons, but this week, it was four under capacity with 116 men incarcerated, Prison Supervisor James Ramsey said.
"We normally have more on the floor," Ramsey said. "After the holidays, we're lighter because there were less people in court."
On average, the prison had 135 men per day in 2007, with a daily maximum of 169, County Public Works Director David Harmon said.
Two crowded facilities
The detention center and prison at Moss Justice Center top the county's lists of buildings that need expanding in part because Sheriff Bruce Bryant has said the crowding there is "a lawsuit waiting to happen." Addressing space issues in other departments and at the York County Library have been postponed until money is available, Wilson said.
Once the new 57,400-square-foot facility is built, the site of the current prison will be renovated for use by the detention center. An addition will be built on the current prison, giving the sheriff more than 200 new beds to address the jail needs created by more crimes being committed and an overtaxed court system in the rapidly growing county.
"The accelerated timeline is to address not only current overcrowding in the prison, but the overpopulation in both areas," Harmon said. "We need to quickly address those. It's something we've been dealing with for quite a while."
The prison has consistently exceeded capacity for the past three years, making due with extra cots and other measures, he said.
"It's not the best way to handle overcrowding," Harmon said.
Arrest warrants in York County increased 32 percent from 2001 to 2005, and consequently the detention center routinely has more inmates than beds there as well.
The York County Council recently approved contracts for site and utility construction, a pre-manufactured metal building and pre-fabricated detention cells, which totals $1.3 million of the $9.7 million project.
"This project has been needed for several years. And with referendum not passing (March 2006), it's taken the county some time to get the financing in place," Wilson said. "Now that we have it, we need it as soon as possible because of prison population and the need for the sheriff to have additional space."
Voters turned down the county's request for $75 million for jail space, libraries and courtrooms in 2006, and the prison is being built with $140,000 from a previous bond and general obligation bonds, she said.
A contractor started site work this week, putting in utilities and moving dirt, Harmon said.
Pre-building a prison>
The minimum-security prison doesn't need to be built with the same type of brick-and-mortar construction as the Moss Justice Center, Bryant has said, because sentenced inmates aren't likely to try to escape when it's much easier to walk off work detail.
The majority of the facility is dormitory-style, but there's an area with cells, Harmon said. Using pre-fabricated cells provides quicker construction time than hand-building them, he said.
Once the prison opens, the county will most likely need additional staff, Harmon said.
The new facility by the numbers
10 -- Months the project should be completed in
116 -- Number of inmates the prison had this week in its 120-bed prison
256 -- Number of beds in the new prison
57,433 -- Square footage of the new facility
$9.7 million -- Total cost of the prison project