NEW CENTRE COUNTY PRISON
By Julian Heicklen
April 19, 2001
In Centre County 3.4% of the adult males live in the Rockview prison. Every year, about 2% of the adult males in Centre County enter the county prison. In the last five years, the average length of stay increased from 42 to 49 days. On average, every American male will spend nine months of his life in prison under current sentencing practice. The U. S. has 4.6% of the worldŐs population, but 25% of the worldŐs prisoners. We have the highest per capita prison population of any country.
If we lived in a civilized society, we would have 45 inmates in the Centre County Prison, and our 78-bed facility would be adequate. However, we are not a civilized society, so that we average 140 inmates, of which about 70 are housed in the Clinton County Prison. Our projected prison population is about 157 for 2005, based on current sentencing practice. However, we will not have current sentencing practice. We have over 2500 adults on probation or parole in Centre County. Do you know why they are on probation or parole? Because there is not enough room to keep them in prison.
If we build the 300-bed prison proposed by the county commissioners, it will be filled within one or two months, and we still will have 70 inmates housed in Clinton County. Then the commissioners will add another 300 beds, for which they already have made plans, and there still will be 70 inmates housed in Clinton County. This will give us a prison population of 670.
Who are these inmates? In U. S. county prisons, 25% of the inmates are there for non-violent narcotics violations. Another 16% are there for theft to feed their drug habit. In addition there are inmates who have committed violent crimes associated with drug trafficking. About 50% of the prison population results from the insane war on drugs.
In the Centre County Prison, 2836% of the inmates are there for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). Judge Sharp, the President Judge of the Centre County Court of Common Pleas before Judge Brown, said that the only thing that prison does for a drunk is to make him thirsty. I believe that DUI is a serious criminal offense. When I ran for county commissioner two years ago, I proposed a program that would both reduce DUI and the number of inmates incarcerated for that offense.
Another group of inmates is domestic violence offenders. Again, I think that domestic violence is a serious crime. When I ran for county commissioner two years ago, I proposed a program that would both reduce domestic violence and the number of inmates incarcerated for it.
Parole violators account for 29 of the inmates. Some of these have committed serious offenses and deserve to be in prison. Others have committed technical violations and should not be there.
Between 5 and 10% of the inmates do not belong in prison at all. They belong in mental institutions. Did you know that the largest mental institution in the U. S. is the Los Angeles County Prison?
Thirty percent of the Centre County Prison inmates are being held in pre-trial detention. They have not been convicted of any crime at all. They are there because of the excessive bails imposed by the district magistrates in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. Many of them have been incarcerated for months. Some, for over a year. This violates their Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.
What does all of this cost? The commissioners claim that the new prison will cost between $22 and $28 million. We know that it will cost more. There will be cost overruns and additions. Furthermore, as I have pointed out, the prison will be expanded immediately from 300 to 600 beds. The total cost will be between $40 and $50 million, or over $400 for every adult in Centre County..
In addition, there will be the cost to house all of these prisoners. The annual cost to house 670 inmates will be about $12.7 million, which is more than the county raises each year from all of its taxes. Since 1995, the Centre County property tax millage increased 72%. And you ainŐt seen nothing yet, if the proposed prison is built. There will be another 50100% increase in the Centre County property tax millage. In addition to that, Judge Brown has just told you that he wants to renovate the old prison to expand the courthouse. You will have to pay for that also.
These are not the only costs. When a man goes to prison, he loses his job. Thus we lose his income and payroll taxes. His family may have to go on welfare. We pay for that also.
Two years ago, Carla Moquin and I ran for county commissioners on a sensible and reasonable prison reform program. You rejected our candidacies. Do not compound your folly by letting these commissioners build that new prison.