To the editor:
I think it's a mistake not to fully look into whether the Juniata County Prison should be closed. I don't think county citizens are fully aware of their options.
The first argument against closing the prison will be job loss. JCP currently has about 20 employees. By closing the prison, they would be forced to collect unemployment, adding to the area's 7-plus percent unemployment rate.
Next come transportation costs. Inmates have rights to be present for their court hearings. Every time an inmate is required in court, they would have to be transported back to Mifflintown. Transportation duties would fall on an already stressed sheriff's department. As there are usually more than three inmates scheduled for court, a transport vehicle would be needed, along with holding cells for inmates awaiting their turn in court. With the amount of required transportation, there would be a need for additional deputies.
When an inmate is transported from prison to the courtroom and returned, the distance between the locations increases the possibility of escape. Is it safe for two deputies to transport four to five inmates from the prison to the courthouse on the same route, at roughly the same time, on the same schedule? A number of things could go wrong, even with the most experienced deputies.
If a person violates supervision, it's the responsibility of the Probation/Parole Department to transport that individual to prison, taking both time and money from an already financially-strapped department. There are certain rights the individual on supervision has, and these would result in another trip to the prison for an interview and then transporting the individual to appear in front of a judge.
During inmate transport, many factors put safety in jeopardy. All it would take is an accident, blown tire, or an inmate desperate to escape.
There is a minimal police presence throughout the county. If a state trooper is transporting an individual out of the county, there is one less officer here to respond to calls. Community safety should outweigh the cost of remodeling the prison.
Closing the prison may save the county initially, but it would not last.
If the county is looking for a way to save money, they might want to consider a different approach; spend some money to make some income.
Another national crisis is increasing inmate population. This could be an opportunity for a small community like ours to cash in. Snyder and York are two counties who have built new prisons in order to house low-risk state and federal offenders. Often, there is federal funding that helps build prisons and pre-release centers that could bring jobs into the county. I'm sure no one wants to have a prison as their neighbor, but done correctly, a new prison would be much safer than transporting inmates 30 miles for court. Housing state or federal offenders is not something I am familiar with, but, if it could result in revenue for the county, it would be worth considering.