From the Desk of Dr. Tom Zeager
Suggestions for Proposed New Lancaster County Correctional Facility
Change the Paradigm
We need to change the paradigm of how we think in terms of corrections. We should rely less on punishment and more on corrections. Funds spent towards the process of corrections will result in an increas of savings by reducing the number of repeat offenders and lowering the recidivism rate.
Our present facility which has an estimated 70% recidivism rate, could have a 20% recidivism rate if more attention was directed towards corrections. People do not want a repeat offender returning to the community. We need to teach the offender alternative methods to build personal character traits and ways of becoming a respectable and contributing member of the community.
Institutional buildings, such as a correctional facility loan with it's landscape (i.e. grounds) design should incorporate a more psychologically inviting look both inside and out.
Beneficial for the Community – The Correctional Facility should provide a productive and positive atmosphere for inmates and the community. Does an offender really need to go to prison 4 to 5 times before a change occurs? The reason that an offender doesn't change is because there is no alternatives for change offered upon the first offense. In most cases the repetition of offenses and revisiting a Correctional Facility could be reduced to 1 to 2 times, reducing crime and saving tax-payer dollars.
Inmate Evaluations – Inmates should be evaluated when entering the prison to assess their personal correctional needs and establish a professional documented plan of action. The assessment should be completed and made available to the prisoner within seven to ten days of entering the Correctional Facility.
Correctional Capacity – A Correctional Facility house 1,000 inmates with the restriction of two inmates per cell. Currently, 700 inmates are being housed, compared previously to 1,300 inmates. Inmates were retained unnecessarily was due to the lack of processing in a timely manner resulting in the higher number of 1,300 inmates.
A Day Reporting Center could reduce the inmate population by 350 allowing for extra accommodations should a temporary need arise. Day Reporting is more effective than prison time and can be implemented for 50% of the cost.
Day Reporting Centers – Give instruction on how to live positively and relate to others in a productive manner. By attending a Day Reporting Center 50% of people in county jail would be more effectively corrected, thus reducing the cost of prison by more than 50%. With an outcome being three times improved Day Reporting Centers ultimately increasing public safety. With this being so, how wise is it to send people to prison without an active plan to correct them?
Pennsylvania Prison Society (PPS) & Attorney Visitor Interviews – The State of Pennsylvania mandates that the Pennsylvania Prison Society (which provides assistance and support and to incarcerated individuals and their families; with the ability to address serious problems) should send volunteers to County and State prisons to visit inmates to monitor activities that may be illegal or abusive, which unfortunately happens more often than not. Pennsylvania Prison Society visitation should be completely audibly private with open glass for security to be maintained allowing for free conversation between inmate and PPS visitor. While it may be understood why a guard would mistreat an inmate due to frustration, however such behavior from a prison guard is not legal nor acceptable.
Inspirational and Encouraging Quotes as walls decor would be mentally engaging. Reading positive quotes while on the way to and from day rooms and open spaces would be encouraging. Create opportunities for community groups and churches to sponsor historical and inspiring quotes, mottos, statements and possibly murals, to eliminate cost to the Correctional Facility.
Counseling – Provide inmates with resources for instruction on wholesome ways to live; “Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.” – Proverbs 19:20
Inmate Job Interviews with Potential Employers – Make available interview rooms for employers to meet with inmates on a one-to-one basis and consider their potential for hiring a particular inmate. Potential employers should be able to visit the prison to interview inmates recommended for employment. The Correctional Facility should monitor inmates who would be a potential employee for businesses seeking to hire inmates. A list of interested employers should be maintained and notified. An effective way to cut recidivism is for returning inmates to be gainfully employed, have a place to live and associate with a new and positive peer group.
Increased lobby size to facilitate larger numbers entering through security. A larger lobby will make it easier for security to operate efficiently and reduce overcrowding.
Intake Entrance – Secure entrance for receiving and releasing inmates, with option for expansion to accommodate up to 2,000 inmates. Often the entrance is built lacking room for expansion which may be needed 20 years later.
Outdoor Security Lighting
A reliable source of exterior lighting will ensure visibility and security. However, outdoor security lighting can increase backlight, uplight and produce offensive glare for neighboring properties.
Parking – provided for county employees and a minimum of 50 parking spaces made available for visitor parking. A major platform for correction and reducing the recidivism rate is community involvement.
Registered, screened, upstanding members of the community could serve as individual life coach counselors and educational speakers. Investment in these services will greatly reduce the recidivism and repeat offender rate, and increase public safety.
Each time there is a repeat offense, we have another victim…it’s called a crime. These are things we can do to change the way offenders think and live. Likewise, there are some inmates who are unable to change until they something dramatic occurs.
Large Receiving Area – for food and supplies is necessary to keep incoming items in a secure and healthy manner. An unorganized supply room creates the opportunity for deliveries of unwanted and banned items finding its way to an inmate.
Large Kitchen – expand the kitchen space for food service training and inmate ServSafe certification program. Plan for potential expansion within the kitchen. traditionally, room for increased kitchen space in the heart of the prison building has been omitted.
Hiking Bike Trail
Build a bike and hike trail around the property along the Conestoga Creek to benefit the Community. Along the trail provide picnic tables, playground equipment and water fountains to enhance and provide a positive experience for the community. Recreational trails increase opportunities for family bonding, and thus, children with strong family bonds are less likely to be involved in crime. Family recreation is a lot cheaper than prisons. Again, we’re trying to change the paradigm about how we the public think about corrections.
Inmate Volunteer Program designed for a volunteer coordinator to transport via van inmates to a non-profit or public organization to mow grass, paint, repair fences, wooded trails and other beneficial community projects. To continue the positive and productive work programs of the past.
Bridge Across Conestoga Creek
Build a bridge across Conestoga Creek to access Lancaster County Park for the benefit of the community.
Correctional Rooms in the Building
A Prison Chapel – should hold at least 250 inmates for worship, educational and motivational speakers. An inmate who is discipled on a just God and understands what is right and what is wrong, will again, reduce the recidivism rate. With the introduction of educational speakers inmates are exposed to alternate methods of thinking and behavior in more positive ways to life’s challenges. A large room to accommodate more attendees is better use of the speaker’s time and potentially more productive. Having sat in large spaces with the capacity of up to 1,000 inmates at State prisons, I won’t say I was never afraid, but I was never harmed. In gathering 250 inmates in the same location, realistically, it is not possible to remove all risk.
Gym – equipped for a full-size basketball court and other exercise games, to help build character. The old saying “idleness is the devil’s workshop” is certainly true in prisons. It’s also true that active participation in a positive environment is the genesis of good behavior. The question needs to be asked, do we want inmates sitting in their cell asking what they can do to break out, or what good they want to do when they get out?
Exercise room – Exercise is a major component of good health, equipping inmates for a positive change and less strain on guards. with equipment for up to 50 inmates at one time.
Fenced outdoor recreation for inmates with games against community baseball and basketball teams. Without community involvement the recidivism rate cannot be reduced. Additional security would be required when a baseball team comes to play with inmates, however it will be more economical and create greater public awareness through this venue. Contraband entering the prison is a problem, but if we don’t solve the root problem of recidivism rate, having a sterilized prison won’t make a difference to the public.
Bail – We should do away with the opportunity of bail — a judge should decide if the perpetrator is a flight risk or not. We have too many people in prison at $108/day who are not a flight risk. About 70% of the people in prison are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of anything. The savings in lowering the prison population would greatly outweigh the benefits of bail and save taxpayers several million dollars a year. This savings could go towards programs that teach and train offenders on how to be good. We have made our prison a debtor’s prison: a poor person sits in a cell awaiting trial because they can’t afford bail, while wealthy people bail themselves out when they should be in prison. Sometimes, when the bail bondsman bails people out and they don’t return for court, the bail bondsman doesn’t reimburse the court because they didn’t show up, nor does he go out and find them and bring them to court.
In Hallways, between the cell blocks, should be glass as much as possible for observation of inmates and create a healthier environment.
A correctional facility should be designed for the public to tour it in an efficient manner. A good facility should be reviewed in a professional manner by the public on a regular basis — this will foster as accountability.
The correctional facility should have a robust Re-entry program that connects the inmate to the community. The Re-entry program should involve the active participation of employment training and employers, housing, medical, churches and other non-profits.
Certified Re-entry Packet
All inmates leaving the prison should be provided a re-entry packet containing a plan to share with to employers, churches, and community groups certifying correction. This re-entry packet should include a documentary-style DVD explaining the potential pitfalls facing inmates leaving prison, testimonials of former inmates and conversations with professional counselors. Providing a re-entry packet will address some of the challenges inmates face and reduce recidivism.
Medical Unit – should be up to date and large enough to handle the needs of the inmates and staff, with room for expansion. Medical cells in the unit would be helpful. Currently the medical unit is located in the center of the prison with no room for expansion.
Break Room for Employees – should include ample space for employees with amenities for snacks, drinks, TV, video training, with tables and chairs for relaxation (and possibly a 15-minute nap). Often prison employees are required to work a double shift. A refreshing and relaxing break time would help reduce employee frustration because of extreme fatigue.
Communication Equipment and Cameras – placed throughout the correctional facility, including the exterior walls to allow monitoring key locations both inside and outside the facility.
Security Pods – located throughout the Correctional Facility to provide safety if problems should occur.
Restricted Housing – when inmates are uncooperative utilize pods as restricted short-term housing (limited usage up to one week).
Dr. Tom Zeager
Justice & Mercy, Inc.
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From the Desk of Dr. Tom Zeager
New Prison for LCP/ First Info Meeting
September 21, 2022
Justice & Mercy’s Comments
I very much appreciated the informational meeting on September 21, 2022, at the Lancaster County Training Center. I was glad that approximately 30 people attended. Thank you for the positive effort and good start. I’m looking forward to additional meetings regarding the new correctional facility.
1. Spread the Net of Info Gathering
Are the people planning the new prison are the same ones running the present system? Naturally, they need to be included, however, I recommend the prison board spread a broader net for gathering information on the new prison's appearance. When Consultants announced they were conducting a needs assessment they said they were getting their assessment from law enforcement, the court, and the prison. This reminded me of more of the same “trail them, nail them and jail them.” We need to focus more on treatment.
2. With Great Respect for Those Leading This Cause
With all due respect for the present leaders on the committee, we need to include other organizations and faith-based groups who actively bring hope to the system via their efforts. We emphasize the need to spread a broader net that includes treatment (i.e. trained individuals in mentoring, social work and mental health). We need to do more to change lives, give hope, and teach the inmates on how to develop good characteristics and become responsible people.
Mentors, Social Workers and Mental Health Professionals Involved in Planning
I want to emphasize that the input from the Prison consultants seems like more of the “trail them, nail them and jail them” mentality. We need to teach inmates on how to “do good and be good.”
3. Justice & Mercy Suggestions
When the Consultants spoke about their needs assessment, I did not hear anything about the following topics:
We encourage the committee to abandon the “trail them, nail them and jail them” tactics and move towards providing inmates the information and tools to empower them on how to become productive and responsible citizens.”
4. Bring Hope to the Equation
Our goal should be to cut the recidivism rate to at least 25%. To do this we must start by introducing hope! Most of the people in prison do not have any hope. Without hope they will ALWAYS recidivate and become repeat offenders.
Our present recidivism rate is about 70% – repeat the crime and do the time. This shows our system isn't effective but we can make improvements to change this!
At what point do we start planning on how to create public safety, change lives, and help empower inmates to become responsible people? Let's start now, in the planning stage.
People from the community speak of these issues, but I did not hear from the Consultant these issues of treatment. Perhaps, it was mentioned but I didn’t notice.
In Lancaster County we have an abundance of treatment organizations. It’s time that we empower them to create public safety from faith-based and otherwise.
The government should be willing to partner with the private sector or possibly, step aside and allow the private sector to do what the government is unable to.
5. Recommendations for Meetings
If we are listening to the people, we should videotape the meetings and make these recorded meetings available to the committee and the public. Recorded meetings should be published on the prison website as well as being available in a written format.
It would be helpful if the Consultant prepared a handout at the beginning of the meeting stating what they heard from the community in the previous meeting. This will hopefully keep us from repeating what others have said, which will then make us be more concise and effective.
In the Consultant’s handout, they should highlight the suggestions taken from the community that they are taking into consideration. This should speed up the process of understanding.
I know undertaking this project is not easy and will take a lot of
time and effort, but I believe if we put our best foot forward, we can
accomplish some of the things listed above. I know it will not be perfect, but I ask that we at least try!
6. A Reason for Offenders to Change
We should stop thinking about lock them up and throw away the key
except for the offenders who make it clear that they are unwilling to change.
Maybe the offenders who claim they don’t want to change need a reason
to change—We should provide that reason!
Dr. Tom Zeager, President
Justice & Mercy
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