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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, July 03, 2017

Where Will Brown Build New Jail and For How Much?



Northampton County's jail was first built in 1871 for $200,000. It's been expanded a few times since then, with the most recent addition coming in 2006 at a $22.8 million cost. But in the old jail in particular, things are a mess. Corrections Director Dan Keen called it a "beast" during a presentation last September. County Administrators vowed top be back no later than the end of November to update everyone after identifying funding sources. They never did come back, but Executive John Brown has begun the process of selecting a new jail.

He's apparently done so without involving the courts or District Attorney, a mistake he needs to correct if he expects to get any cooperation at all.

Where will it be? How much will it cost taxpayers? Do we really need a new jail? These are all questions that need to be answered.

Where will it be? - At a recent Council meeting, Brown told Peg Ferraro that the cost of a "high rise" solution in Easton is too exorbitant, and that he's already visited a dozen different locations. He needs a tract of between 40-60 acres. The most logical choice is Gracedale in Upper Nazareth, where the County already owns plenty of land. There would be no need buy, and the infrastructure should be a snap. But the public opposition would be intense, especially to owners of the Eagles' Landing development. Zoning might be an insurmountable hurdle.

Brown has also considered some of the Bethlehem Steel lands in South Bethlehem. Rumors abound that he's also considering Wayne Grube Park, Louis Moore Park (which is suddenly getting water) and Upper Mount Bethel Township. I believe Abe Atiyeh would be interested in selling his facility in West Easton.

No matter where he decides to build, there will be opposition.

How much will it cost? - According to a jail study commissioned by John Stoffa in 2008, the cost of a new jail at a new location would be $130-136 million. Build a seven story monstrosity that Eastonians would be sure to love would cost $128-$132 million.

What does this mean to taxpayers? Glenn Reibman's $111 million bond issue in 2001 resulted in two consecutive years of tax increases of 64%, along with layoffs. Reibman had hoped it would be revenue neutral because $29 million went to economic development. A new prison would just cost you money, most likely a 70-80% tax hike.

As Ron Angle asked back in 2008, "The reality here is, who the hell wants a new prison?"

Do we really need a new jail? - Back in 2008, at the time of the last prison study, it was projected that we'd need 1,300 beds by 2015. There were only 732 inmates when Keen made his presentation to Council last year. And that number is dropping as courts look to alternatives to incarceration. We now have problem solving courts, not warehouses.

So far as I know, Brown has failed to meet with the courts to discuss the trends. He even failed to meet with the judges over e-filing in the Civil Division, and just attempted to ram it through.

Brown needs to be transparent. -  Brown has signed an Executive Order authorizing Corrections Director Dan Keen to enter into the planning process for a new detention center with DLR Group for the sum of $72,000 over the next three months. His deal with DLR is a "sole source," or no-bid, contract. This way he can avoid the competitive bidding that would otherwise be required under the county's Administrative Code. Brown can argue that DLR is the only outfit in the universe that can give him a prison plan. But that's nonsense. There are numerous prison design firms besides DLR. Council Solicitor Phil Lauer has ruled that what Brown is doing is contrary to the Administrative Code.

Brown said competitive bidding in this instance "is just a waste of time and energy."

It's also the law.

He needs to follow it.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you build it they will come

Anonymous said...

Jail needs to be as uncomfortable to the inmates as possible. Back when they were called Penitentiaries, the inmates had a yard to sit in and walk around. Perhaps a machine shop and a rockyard.

Why must they be new and comfortable with cable television, weight rooms and other amenities. They aren't Holiday Inns. Let the convicts rot and if they choose to hang themselves, that's less money we need to spend on keeping them alive while they serve their time.

Anonymous said...



How about locating the new prison in one of our Industrial parks? The new prison would take up less room than one of these huge warehouses and the large walls we experience from the construction of these warehouses would look like the new walls of the new prison. No one is offended and the buildings would fit into the surrounding landscape? The County would designate all revenues from the taxes generated by the Industrial Park go to the paying of a bond issue that pays for the prison. The big open spaces of these new industrial parks are within easy driving distance to the Court House. You may even expand the idea to build new Court Rooms at the new prison site. You can turn the present facility into a museum (run by the Northampton County Historic Society)or simply a holding site for the Courts. You tear down some of the old prison and use that space for expansion purposes.
The builders of these new warehouses may hire some of our prisoners for work-release positions. Lots of options when you think outside the box.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Have just been informed that Bethlehem zoning does not permit a jail use in an industrial park.

Peter J.Cochran said...

Should be no weight room-just cold -unheated water ,and no tv in cell blocks, stainless rack and a sheet. That's it. Nobody ever wanted to return to USMC red line brig.Get raisin bread on 3 day bread and water, then pick out the raisins and they get returned and signed for.How about in slate quarries with a full view from the bottom for repeat offenders.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they should consider a joint venture with Monroe County and build a joint prison

Anonymous said...

This is bullshit, no need for a new prison. What is it with county executives? Do they think they are Egyptian pharaohs? Reibman had his building, Stoffa had multiple buildings and now Brown wants his building.

County Council needs to do their job and reign in these egomaniacal spenders and just say NO!

The Taxpayer!!

Anonymous said...

For the record there hasn't been a weight room in over twenty years. To compare this jail to a Holiday Inn is just ignorant. Addiction affects everyone, but just kill them all, right? Again, just plain ignorant.

Anonymous said...

If the old one isn't full, then why do we need a new one ?

Bernie O'Hare said...

11:46, Agreed, but I doubt that county taxpayers will want to see their taxes doubled. This is something in which the courts need to be involved. They know the trends. They know what they want and are entitled to deference here.

Anonymous said...

All are beneath administrations and should be treated as subhumans.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Spoken like someone who should be wearing a Trump armband.

Anonymous said...

Descriptions of NCP make it sound like ... like ... a jail. It sounds like the kind of place one wouldn't want to go. Perfect. Leave it just as it is.

Anonymous said...

Just fix up what we have. Don't waste any more taxpayers money in studies or construction. The current facility with West Easton for less violent offenders is sufficient.

Peter J.Cochran said...

ANON 11'08 you are a relative of a druggie ,sorry for you.. But the idea is to NOT HAVE the deadbeats costs us taxpayers money . Red LIne Brigs are structured to not have inmates ever return -ever.You would rather go SOMEPLACE ELSE and do your thing and take your chances BUT NOT ON NAVY PROPERTY. I worked the brig as a Marine and 'Turnkeys' become a person that is in line and predictable as a human can be -we had a mission. SO go screw yourself.NOBODY WANTS TO EVER COME BACK. You could not be Gomer Pyle yourself because you're a hapless ANON on this blog. I sign my my name and you can't.

Antwon Parker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bernie O'Hare said...

First, the topic here is Brown's plan to move the jail. Second, personal attacks aimed at a reader must be signed.

Anonymous said...

It was always my understanding that you can't "zone out" a facility like a hospital, drug rehab house, prison etc. If this type zoning was allowed, every municipality would zone out the type of business or industry they find unacceptable and all the municipalities would simply be bedroom communities. Some of those old Bedlam Steel sites would be excellent places for a prison and wouldn't have much of an impact on anyone. Chrin's new Industrial complex in Tatamy would be a great place for anew prison.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Yes, zoning that fails to provide for a known legal use is considered exclusionary. Bethlehem does provide for prison uses, but not on the steel lands.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
5:26 was just a joke poked at all administrations, national as well as and especially locally because the eveidence is unsurmounting blight. This will and shall be built to with substandart tenaments that we are all sure will be overpriced and unsubstancsiated similar to a popcorn machine on the county's carnival floor.

Anonymous said...

Cruel and unusual punishment. The county has been staring at a Federal shutdown of the old jail for many years now. Bandaids are not the answer. Get serious.

Anonymous said...

What is a band aid? Once again the spenders want to build a monument.

Anonymous said...

The jail used to be "cruel" when it was so overcrowded there were eight bunks to a cell converted from a closet. But that is no more. Sentencing changes, lower crime and West Easton for minimal offenders. They should explore renovation of the existing site. Tear down the old prison in stages and replace with a more modern structure. Or tear down the faulty parking garage and build a new prison there. Keep the prisoners near the courts. Don't force a prison in the burbs. Gracedale is already an unattractive option for patients with resources i.e. Medicare. Imagine how stigmatized it will be if next to the county jail. Bandaids are better than building a Taj Mahal prison just cause Butterbean Keen wants it.

Nolan Gerencser said...

My name is Nolan Gerencser and I teach World Cultures and Criminal Justice at Pen Argyl Area High School. I teach two semesters of Criminal Justice each year, and I take these classes to Northampton County Courthouse and Prison every January and April/May. It is one of the highlights of the class and something my students look forward to well in advance.

The staff at the Courthouse and Prison are always professional, courteous and most of all gracious with their precious time to help my students gain some insight into their daily lives. I cannot speak highly enough about them.

Now I will not get into the politics of the issue as I feel it is inappropriate and unprofessional for a teacher to do so, but I can make one pertinent comment. Each time I take my classes to NorCo Prison it is clear how outdated some of the environment is and this is something I know about through extensive reading in preparation to teach my class. These outdated areas make it inherently unsafe for the staff and inmates who must work and live there. There are blind corners, tight walkways, and other security risks that were not thought of decades ago when they were built. It is paramount that we keep the staff and inmates safe to allow them to do their job. This is only achieved through either an extensive renovation or a rebuild. I know this costs quite a bit, but as someone who lives and works in Northampton County, it is well worth it. We must keep these hardworking men and women safe.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you ( Bernie ) want to continue to kick the can down the road. No one wants a new Jail but it's eventually going to bite the county in the ass if they don't. Do you want another Lehigh county situation in our backyard.

Bernie O'Hare said...

It is immaterial what I want. The problem is that Brown is without question the worts person to make this decision. He does not listen. He just tries to shove square pegs into round holes. So far as I know, he's made no effort to bring the courts into a decision in which they should be very involved. Also, he's refusing to say where bc he knows that, once he does, he loses votes. And yes, there is no political will to do this. This does mean that your tax bill is going to double. That reality is why. So my belief is that we will build a new jail when a federal judge tells us to build one.

Anonymous said...

The hell with the judges, build at Gracedale and have a holding cell established at the courthouse for court cases each day. Many other counties can transport inmates each day, so can Norco.