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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, September 19, 2016

Brief History of NorCo Jail Expansions



Last week, Northampton County Corrections Director Dan Keen pitched Council on the need for a new jail. He did a great job of pointing out some serious issues and told Council what his ideal jail would look like. But he had no insight on where it should go or how much it will cost. Council was ready to break ground that very day, but their attitude will change once they discover how much this beast, as Keen aptly called the jail, will cost. Also, no matter where it goes, it will be controversial. Even if it stays in Easton, people will complain.

Nobody likes jails.

That reality is lost on some gung-ho members of Council. One of them, Ken Kraft, is a trades union agent. He has a legitimate interest in the jail and attends their meetings. But make no mistake. He no doubt is eyeing up a gold mine in construction labor costs. He likely has no legal conflict of interest, but his involvement certainly has an appearance of impropriety, especially since he said several times that he wants to be on a committee to expand the jail. 

Then there's Bob Werner, who strangely announced that he is running for Executive earlier in the summer. He hinted he has already met with municipal officials at a location nobody has the guts to mention, and claims their leaders are now on board with a new jail.  You see, he knows how to market these things, unlike his inferior predecessors.

This past weekend, Werner made sure he marketed himself. An anonymous comment, either from him or one of his supporters, was posted on my blog:
"Stop the blame game and get on with a planned bi-partisan solution to the impending crisis. Start talking seriously about the future needs of the courts and the tax payers. Work together instead of griping about the past. Werner and Phillips and others see the need to work this out. Brown needs to bend also and stop pontificating and listen to the options. The jail is a pen stroke away from being declared a human rights violation of Federal law. Werner showing leadership skills the current executive has no idea about."
Contrary to what this political comment suggests, our county history on this point is both relevant and instructive. Here's what has happened in past administrations.

Gerald "Jerry" Seyfried. -  Seyfried completed a $7.5 million prison expansion in 1993 that included a dining hall and a work release facility for females. But he reached the conclusion that "you can't build your way" out of this problem because, as soon as you expand a jail, the judges fill it out of fear they will otherwise be viewed as being soft on crime.

Seyfried formed a prison expansion committee that included the courts, the DA, members of Council and John Stoffa from Human Services. This committee was also charged with coming up to alternatives to incarceration.

Seyfried also began using inmates who volunteered to work odd jobs. The very first person selected, a local town drunk, keeled over dead of a heart attack on the first day of the program. That threw a monkey wrench into things.

Bill Brackbill. - Despite Seyfiried's expansion, which ballooned to $12 million when all was said and done, the jail was soon again at capacity.

"I'm scared," Brackbill told a Morning Call reporter. "I don't want to be involved in building a new prison, and I'm not sure what space we have to expand ... Everyone wants us to lock people up, but nobody wants to spend more money on prisons. We're in a Catch-22."

Corrections officers would later accuse Brackbill of plotting to privatize the jail. He had previously privatized the commissary and medical department. Though Brackbill denied any such intention, he refused to rule out the possibility.

Glenn Reibman. - Overcrowding at the jail forced the County into sending inmates to other counties at what was then a cost of $55 per day. Because of problems with Easton officials, he was forced to demolish a state-of-the art archive building to make way for a $22 million expansion that added about 388 beds. He hoped to build on top of the existing expansion for future expansions, but it is doubtful Easton officials would be very receptive to that idea.

About 3/4 of Seyfried's expansion was funded by grants, but Reibman included the cost for his expansion in a $111 million bond that eventually resulted in a 65% tax hike and layoffs for the first time in county history.

Primary voters gave Reibman his walking papers when he sought a third term. 

John Stoffa. - In 2008, Stoffa commissioned yet another jail study and learned that Northampton County's jail, built in 1871, has "outlived its usefulness." It's a "problem waiting to happen," said consultants from Highland Associates. Six unpleasant and expensive options were presented for bigger prisoner warehouse, one that could pack in around 1,488 inmates. The county could simply abandon the site and start out fresh somewhere else. $130 to 136 million. Cha ching! It could rip down the old prison and build a seven story monstrosity that Eastonians are sure to love. $128 to $132 million. Cha ching! And, of course, it could split operations up and still spend gobs of money.

As consultants laid out the proposals, exasperated Finance Chair Ron Angle questioned where we could build a new prison or even have a split operation. "The reality here is, who the hell wants a new prison?"

To make matter worse, John Stoffa said the brand new courthouse would be full with the arrival of a ninth judge. 

Stoffa suggested that all administration offices should be concentrated at Gracedale, which is the geographical center of the county. That is when he first proposed that the Bechtel and Governor Wolf buildings, which housed human services, be sold and replaced by a new human services building. He would leave the vacated government center for the courts. That would leave more room for both the judges and the people they send to jail. It might even eliminate the need for a new parking lot.  It might also reduce the cost of a proposed prison expansion.

Stoffa's proposal went nowhere because, for his first six years in office, he was shackled by a Council that exalted political sniping over good government.  

But in his last two years, Stoffa made progress with a new work release facility in West Easton. He also brought in a program to reduce recidivism with treatment plans, but Council rejected that contract within a few months after he left office.  

Stoffa ran out of time. 

John Brown - In his first year in office, Brown agreed to drop the only real program the County had to treat inmates and prevent recidivism. He and Council have failed to replace it with another and this is part of the reason why the jail is over-crowded, although I doubt they'd ever admit it. To their credit, Judges Craig Dally and Steve Baratta have attempted to fill this rehabilitation vacuum with problem solving courts. In fairness, Brown has made his staff available to the courts. It's a great program, but I'm sure the judges would like to see something in-house. 

Keen's presentation, while excellent, tells us what we've known since the Seyfried administration.  

Lessons from the past. - We need  governing, not politics. 

Seyfried and Reibman were successful with prison expansions because they avoided politics, at least on that issue. Seyfried sought grants, so that taxpayers only paid about 1/4 of the cost. Reibman was less frugal, and though he did what had to be done, it cost us too much and he lost an election. Brackbill made the mistake of refusing to rule out privatization, which turned a jail expansion into a political hot potato Stoffa was the victim of a hostile council, though he made great strides in his last two years. Brown failed to even appear at Keen's presentation. His penchant for secrecy and politically ambitious council members could ruin any expansion before it gets off the ground. None of them has even mentioned the courts, which must be involved in this process.  All alternatives to incarceration need to be fully explored, and for that, you need the courts. In short, we need governing, not politics. Governing means transparency, not secrecy. We need to know where it is and how much it will cost.     

48 comments:

Anonymous said...

As is the case with all your so-called "county histories", your account is biased at best. Everyone knows you love John Stoffa and Jerry Seyfired so naturally they are both heroes and victims your stories.

You failed to mention the multi-million dollar plan for the prison done by the Reibman Admisntration that Stoffa threw in the garbage because he wanted all money spent on his Human Services building. Part of the reason he wanted to dump Gracedale.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Stioffa threw nothing in the garbage and, as I pointed out in my story, Reibman did what he had to do.

Anonymous said...

Everyone else is having to make due with less Bernie. So can those in government. Suck it up and take it, we don't have the money for a new jail.

Anonymous said...

This is not an easy project to propose or fund and I hardly believe the morons in the administration and on Council are up to the task of forwarding such a project. It would make sense to bring in a PROFESSIONAL consultant to gather all the pertinent information, digest the facts and present a fact-finding report to be voted on by the citizens of Northampton County. Money from the Northampton County Revenue & Economic Redevelopment Authority can pay for this report through the Local Sharing Municipal Gaming Grant and maybe they can pledge 1 million per year to help fund any voter approved initiative. After all, they gave approximately 6 million in gaming grants in the last three years to municipalities to purchase new police interceptors, law enforcement software and even more cops. If all this manpower and equipment is used to arrest people, where are you going to house these vicious criminals leaving the Sands casino.

Anonymous said...

Private prisons don't work and cause nothing but problems. Example : http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/privately-run-mississippi-prison-called-a-scene-of-horror-is-shut-down/ar-BBwd6G0?li=BBnb7Kz

Anonymous said...

The original expansion on Union street which called for 7 floors would have worked. However, the county kept taking money from the project and used it to build the taj Mahal ( New Courthouse ).

Anonymous said...

Once again the County is looking for a place to build a prison. Look no further than the present site and the parking deck. This prison can be constructed on existing land and property. A little thought must go into the process. Keep the section of the prison that is fairly new and meets modern standards, tear down the walls that are deteriorating, tear down the parking garage as it is antiquated and can't be built upon because the Pylons (columns) are not strong enough, and you have plenty of room for a new (multi floor) prison. It's not as good as building something new at "Gracedale" but it is the path of least resistance and the most acceptable. Now you have to convince the "Mayor of Easton" that this is the way to go and you have to take on the Courts because you will be blocking their scenic views from the new Taj Mahal that was constructed for them by the Reibman Administration.

Ken Kraft said...

I was on the committee to build human services building also. No conflict. I just want to make sure that proper construction principles are followed and we get what we pay for. 30 years in construction industry I can see when we are being sold up the wrong avenue and I won't let that happen to the tax payers and I am one of them.

Anonymous said...

When is this lunacy going to end?
Band Aid No. 1 .....First we had the Wolfe Building as an answer to our Human
Service "growth Problem". Hartzell Admin
Band Aid No. 2.....Next we add a new work release facility. Seyfried Admin
Band Aid No. 3.....Next we add a wing at the prison. Seyfried admin
Band Aid no. 4.....Further growth under Brackbill
Band aid no. 5.....Further monies wasted under Reibman including our Archives
Building
Band Aid no. 6.....Poor decision making on a new Human Services Building that we
don't even own, plus a make shift work release facility under
Stoffa (that Ken Kraft supported)
Band Aid no. 7.....another make shift facility under Brown.

Why do all these solutions not resolve our problem? From Seyfried to Brown it's been nothing but wasted monies on these band-aids. Stop already. Give me a break. Let the Casinos build a new prison. Northampton County should keep the money from the casino and build a new prison.

Anonymous said...
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Bernie O'Hare said...

Ken,

I know you were on the human services committee, and the job ended up being a union job even though it wasn't built by the county. There is no question you understand these contracts better than anyone on council and I believe your zeal for the jail is genuine, but so is your zeal for union construction jobs. That is why you refused to support a resolution concerning the use of hotel taxes for NIZ projects.

You are not on Council to represent the union, but District One. The people you represent have been badly hurt by the NIZ, including three very large hotels in your district. You made it easier for the NIZ to put them out of business. And all for temporary union construction jobs.

Let's look at Council. The only thing this council has done concerning the jail population is to increase it by eliminating the one program directed at reducing recidivism. No effort has been made by anyone to replace it with something else.

You can't just build your way out of this problem. It needs a more comprehensive approach, and i question the wisdom of putting someone on a committee to contemplate a $160 mm project when he is a trades union business agent. There may be no technical conflict, but you do have divided loyalties,as your vote on the NIZ makes clear.

On the other hand, I concede that you have always been concerned about the jail. But if that concern is genuine, why did you not insist on a treatment program to replace CEC?

Then we have a Werner-inspired comment politicizing this and telling people to ignore history.

We know the following from history: 1) Any jail expansion will be filled the moment it is built. 2) A jail expansion, if done right, will cost $160-180 million. 3) The jail expansion will go over budget. 4) A jail expansion will result in a major tax hike and will cost several council members their seats. 5) A jail expansion, even in place, will be extremely unpopular. 6) The courts need to be involved. 7) The so-called courts and corrections committee should be doing something to establish treatment programs at the jail. 8) Your motives may be mercantile. 9) Werner's motives appear to be political.

This is how I see it from my seat in the peanut gallery.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Deleted a comment from Constable cRaZy.

Bernie O'Hare said...

7:40, The Sands Casino yields about $1.6MM in slots revenue to be doled out by the gaming authority. It also brings in $1.2 MM in table games revenue. Table games can be spent in whatever is deemed in the county's best interest, and thus can be used to help fund a jail. The slots revenue may only be used, in the first instance, to fund the direct impact of gaming. That would be a hard sell. What I would do is apply to the authority for reimbursement of all costs incurred in prosecuting criminals at the sands. The jail stay, etc.

Anonymous said...

The CEC was dropped because there was no proof it worked. You keep propping it up because it was another Stoffa deal. The company made money but their were no stats to prove the ridiculous claims. Much like the claims about Gracedale this was another Stoffa idea that just was not true.

Ovem Lupo Commitere said...

Not sold yet that a new facility is needed for what it would cost. Though, kicking the can down the road just makes the bullet to be bit bigger. I oppose the privatization of such a basic function of County government, and studies have been rather mixed on private prisons. I believe I read recently that the national gov't will be phasing out their use.

Anywhere you go, there will be a NIMBY backlash, so the politics of it could prove contentious to say the least. Gracedale land is already owned by the County. Another option, is right along Route 22 (side opposite Moravian Academy) that was rezoned to allow (conditional use) for prisons a few years ago. I believe more land than Gracedale, and more visible.

Ovem Lupo Commitere said...

Again, though, I am not sold on the cost-benefit necessity and its impact on tax-payers yet.

Anonymous said...

Learn from the history for sure but blaming others for the current situation is totally counter productive. Can we learn from our past mistakes? I certainly hope so as the well is not overly deep to keep asking the citizens to fix this thing for eternity. A bi-partisan solution is out there. Go find it.

Anonymous said...

Green Pond road would be an ideal spot for the new jail.

Bernie O'Hare said...

2:42, CEC was dropped bc an audit revealed that it did not reduce recidivism as much as claimed, but it also revealed that it did reduce recidivism. I have no problem with dropping CEC, but there should have been something else in the wings to replace it. What Council and Brown did is irresponsible. John Stoffa did recognize that reducing recidivism frees up space at a jail.

Bernie O'Hare said...

3:25, Nobody is blaming anyone, certainly not me. I am explaining what road we've followed. There is no doubt in my mind that this council, when push comes to shove, lacks the political will to do anything. We still have not done re-assessment, and a Council that was really interested in leading from the front would have done it years ago.

As for the jail, I've laid out the lessons from history, including recent history. In addition to the nine points above, I'd add that funding sources need to be identified. the table games revenue can be used. There may be grants, but the county has no grants administrator. I'd scrap DCED and replace it with 1) Grants administrator to identify and apply for grants. 2) HUD compliance officer for HUD grants and 3) Authorities administrator.

Anonymous said...

"John Stoffa did recognize that reducing recidivism frees up space at a jail.":

WoW! Some insight., So does everyone else know this. The man was good at stating the obvious.

Anonymous said...

Here's a suggestion for you. Put the new prison by the Bethlehem Sewage treatment facility with the rest of the shit.

Anonymous said...

Here's another suggestion.....put the facility by the Chrin Landfill with the rest of the trash

Anonymous said...

Here's another suggestion.....put the prison by the City Cemetery with the rest of the cadavers

Anonymous said...

Here's another suggestion...put the prison up at Bear Swamp with the rest of the swamp leaches.

Anonymous said...

Here's another suggestion...put the prison by the Psych. ward at St. Lukes.........you get the message.

Ovem Lupo Commitere said...

"Green Pond road would be an ideal spot for the new jail."
3:27 PM

No, Bethlehem Twp tract that is zoned for prisons I believe has a main access off Hecktown Road (County Rd, anyway?) if you make an intersection with Brodhead a 4 way. Farmersville/Green Pond Rd side should only be for emergency access only, as that road is too small.

I am sure no one would want it there.... no one wants a prison anywhere. Don't want the criminals on the streets, either... quite a societal contradiction. I am not advocating any site. I don't even know if a new prison is necessary; just throwing out another option. Besides, Nazareth land is already owned by the County. BT land would need to be acquired through eminent domain, even though it might be more functional.

Anonymous said...

The County of Northampton should have made the Easton facility the pre-adjudication facility for those awaiting trial. The post-adjudication facility should have been built with Lehigh County at the Community Correction Center (formerly the Salisbury Annex), next to Bethlehem. Lehigh County refurbished this in 2011 while Northampton was contemplating West Easton. There are times when regionalization works. But what do I know? Politicians know more than I do...

Bernie O'Hare said...

Gotta' admit, this shit is funny.

Bernie O'Hare said...

3:49, yes, he was pretty good at it, but county Council decided to drop a treatment program that it did not like in favor of ... nothing. Maybe he should have been more obvious.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Ovem, I have not heard anyone advocate BT, but who knows? My sense of this is that the county will drag its feet until a judge orders them to build, the same as with re-assessment. The people sitting on these boards are not exactly profiles in courage. There are a few guys like Hayden Phillips whom I admire, even if he and I don't agree. And I think Ken Kraft has guts, even though I bashed him today. But they are Marines. The rest of them will keep their heads down and try not to offend. Don't know enough about Dietz to make an assessment.

We do need a bigger and completely different kind of jail, one that has treatment programs, too. Council will flex its muscles and talk the talk, but it won't walk the walk. This would need participation from judges, human services, Keen, Council and I would be on the phone to every source of funds to minimize the impact one this happens. My guess is ten years.

Anonymous said...

"But they are Marines"


So was Lee Harvey Oswald and Charles Whitman, so your pint is?

Anonymous said...

Let's start thinking outside of the box on this one, prisoners can be a resource if given the right tasks ; landscaping , barbering, woodwork, masonry, fluffer film work etc.

Instead we warehouse them at great expense not only financial on the tax coffers but the psyche of those allowed to rot for months at a time. These men and women are being ostracized in a most. Heinous manner time to let them grow and prosper while incarcerated as the rest of the western nations have.

Anonymous said...

We applaud Ken Kraft for telling like it is. You impugned his statements because you claim he just wants jobs for labor construction guys. You never brought that concern up when Ken sat on the Stoffa special committee for the Human Services Building,hmmm. Also maybe Ken can confirm this but since that was a private developer building the building and leasing it to the county for the worst lease terms ever in County history, word was that Ken was promised that the developer would use union labor. Once he got the contract the guy was going to renege on the union labor part. Word is Stoffa was going to let it pass until Ken read Stoffa the riot act and told him the project would get deep sixed if the developer and Stoffa went back on their word.

We applaud Ken for bringing that up as you conveniently never had a problem with his involvement in your buddies Human Service's Palace.

Anonymous said...

Kraft insisted that the developer of the HS building utilize prevailing wage contractors, which would have been required if the county had built the facility. This added 16% to the cost of the building. But it assured that quality tradesmen were utilized. The terms of the lease were fair. In five years the county can buy the building, and total cost will be around $22 million. There is no way the county could have built a 66,000 SF building of that quality in that location in a little over a year for that money.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I agree the county could never have done it that quickly. I also agree that union labor would do it right. But Ken has divided loyalties. In his vote on the NIZ resolution, he clearly placed his lust for temporary construction jobs ahead of what is right for three hotels in his district. He was the sole No vote. I don't think Ken should be on any building committee for anything bc of his divided loyalties.

Bernie O'Hare said...

4:37, In other words, Ken was there to protect union jobs. I was unaware of this, and had i known, I would have said something. When Kraft was on this building selection committee, I assumed it was to find a building. At that time, I had no suspicion that he was there to ensure union labor was used. I did not become suspicious until I saw him involving himself in other projects. While i would personally agree with using union and local labor, I am leery of Ken's further involvement in any building projects. I should have picked up on what he was doing with the Human Services building.

Anonymous said...

My hope is Brown proposes a big prison expansion. It would ensure his re-election defeat. Every time an Executive builds or substantially expands a prison he blows the next election--Bausch and Seyfriend in 93 and Reibman in 05. Maybe a total coincidence and each of the aformentioned had other more salient issues but it is a sure-fire bet electoral defeats awaits the next crazy to expand the prison.

Anonymous said...

The aging jail has reached a tipping point. There appears to be political will to get it done. But this tortoise administration and council cannot drag their feet too long. The Civil War jail is an accident waiting to happen. Interest rates for municipal bonds will never be lower. Float a bind and use casino money chop chop!

Anonymous said...

bond

Anonymous said...

Werner's statements concern me greatly. Every county executive seems to want to build some monument to themselves. These guys must think they are like the ancient Pharaohs. Can we have an Executive who does not need a building and a nice plaque to his or her ego?

Also the HS building will be a lot more than $22 million more propaganda you are not adding in the million dollar a year lease plus the yearly increases plus the courts of the settlement all borne by the county. Best developer deal in history.

It is also amusing that people who claimed it would have taken years and years to get approval to build a basic box for Human Services building at Gracedale now feel a prison will just flow through. Hypocrisy much?

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:02 is blowing more smoke up people's asses because of his/her hatred of Stoffa. The $22 million includes the lease payments. Still a bargain and a much needed facility.

Anonymous said...

Kraft was a member of the committee that considered building size and location, but once a site was agreed on his involvement was peripheral. He pushed for prevailing wage with council and that influenced their vote to approve the plan. He did not meddle with the county committee that worked on floor plans, furniture purchases, etc.

Anonymous said...
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Bernie O'Hare said...

If you want to make accusations of bribery and payoffs, sign your name so you can be sued.

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