From the Desk of Dr. Tom Zeager
Justice Mercy’s Ideas
for New Proposed Lancaster County
1. Change the Paradigm
The building and landscape design (including the grounds) should have
a more positive look inside and out. We the people, need to change the
paradigm of how we think in terms of corrections. We need to rely less
on punishment, and more on corrections. The money we spend up front in
corrections will more than save on the money we spend by less repeat
offenders or lowering our recidivism rate. It is Justice Mercy’s opinion that
our present facility has about a 70% recidivism rate, when we could have
a 20% rate if we would pay more attention to corrections. We the people
do not want a repeat offender returning to our community.
We need to teach the offender on how to be good and do good.
2. Beneficial for the Community
The Correctional Facility should be productive and positive for inmates
and the community. Too often we think an offender must go to prison 4-5 times
before they’ll change. The reason for that is we don’t plan to change them the
first time. In most cases this could be cut back to 1-2 times in a Correctional
Facility, again, cutting crime and saving money.
3. Glaring Outside Lights
Night lights should not glare onto neighboring properties.
4. Hiker Biker Trail
Build a hiker biker trail around the property along the creek for the benefit
of the Community. Along the biker hiker trail have picnic tables, playground
equipment & possibly water fountains to give a positive experience for
the community. Such recreational trails create family bonding, and where
that is the case, children tend to be less 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.
5. Bridge Across Conestoga Creek
Build a bridge across Conestoga Creek to access Lancaster County Park
for the benefit of the community.
6. Correctional Rooms in the Building:
A. Day Reporting – Around half of the people that are now in County Jails
would be better corrected by bringing them to a Day Reporting Center
where they learn how to live and treat each other in a productive way.
This could be done for 50% of the cost of prison, and the outcome would
be three times better, which ultimately would create more public safety.
Sometimes I wonder who is more ignorant, we who send people to prison
without a plan to correct them, or those we send there.
B. Counseling – for inmates on more wholesome ways to live.
Let’s teach them how to be good and do good.
C. PPS & Attorney Visitors Interviews – the State of PA has legally
mandated that the PA Prison Society should send volunteers to
County and State prisons to visit inmates. One of the reasons
is to monitor present activities that may be illegal or abusive,
which happens more often than anybody would like.
These PPS visits need to be done where no one, including
guards, can hear what the inmate is telling the PA Prison Society visitor.
They should have open glass so that security can be maintained.
Hearing an inmate explain how and what guard has beaten him up
lately for no reason, should not be public information, unless mandated
by the courts. It is understood why a guard would mistreat an inmate
due to frustration, however that doesn’t make it legal or right.
D. Job interviews with Employers – There should be rooms available
where employers can sit down with inmates on a one-to-one basis
and observe the potential of hiring a particular inmate. Employers
should know they can come to the prison and interview inmates
that might be recommended to them for hire. The Correctional
Facility should make a sincere effort to monitor inmates who
could be a potential employee of certain types of businesses and
notify those Employers who might be interested. This means the Correctional
Facility would keep a running list of potential Employers to notify. A big
way to cut recidivism is for returning inmates to get a life
sustaining job, place to live and a new set of positive friends.
E. Chapel – should hold at least 250 inmates for worship and outside
educational speakers. An inmate who is discipled on a just God on what is
right and wrong, will again greatly cut the recidivism rate. Also, educational
speakers will greatly help inmates to think and act in a more positive way
to life’s challenges. A larger room of 250 attendees will make the speaker’s
time much more productive. I have sat in large rooms with up to 1,000
inmates at State prisons, and I was never harmed.
(I won’t say I was never afraid)
So 250 shouldn’t be a problem. It’s not possible to remove all risk.
F. A 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?
G. Exercise room – with equipment for up to 50 inmates at one time.
Exercise is one major component of good health, equipping them for a
positive change and less strain on guards.
Parking should be provided for County employees and at least 50
spaces for visitor parking. Again, a major platform for correction and
cutting recidivism rate, is community involvement. Upstanding people
from the community could be screened and registered as educational speakers
or individual counselors. Investment in these activities will greatly cut the
recidivism rate and repeat offenders, creating public safety. Every time we
have a repeat offense, we have another victim…it’s called crime. These are
things we can do to change the way offenders think and live. Inmates who
don’t change should experience something dramatic.
8. Community Partnerships
Fenced in outside recreation for inmates and community baseball and
basketball teams. We will not cut the recidivism rate without
community involvement. Certainly, additional security would need to be
provided when a baseball team comes in to play with inmates, but it will
be cheaper and create more public safety through this venue. Contraband
coming into the prison is an issue, but if we don’t solve the root problem
of recidivism rate, having a sterilized prison won’t make a difference
to the public.
9. Main Lobby/Entrance
Large lobby to facilitate groups entering through security, which will
make it easier for both the groups, and the security to operate efficiently.
Our present lobby is way too small.
10. Inmate Evaluations
Every inmate should be evaluated when entering the prison for correctional needs with a professional documented plan ordered for each inmate. This plan should be completed and given to the prisoner within ten days of entering the Correctional Facility.
11. Correctional Capacity
The Correctional Facility should be built for 1000 inmates, and no more
than two inmates per cell. Right now, we have about 700 inmates, and we
used to have 1,300 inmates. The reason we had 1,300 inmates is because
we didn’t process them in a timely manner, and we held them when we didn’t
need to. If we had a Day Reporting Center, we could cut that population to 350.
It is good to have the extra space in case there is a temporary need.
Day Reporting is twice as effective as prison time and can be done
for half the price.
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.
13. Open Hallways
In Hallways, between the cell blocks, should be glass as much as
possible for observation of inmates and create a healthier environment.
14. Large Kitchen
Large Kitchen to expand the prison up to 2000 inmates. Should include
space for training of food service for inmate certification. (ServSafe program)
Too often when it comes time to expand our kitchen there’s no room
to do so because is in the heart of the prison building leaving no room to expand.
15. Large Receiving Area
Large receiving area for food and supplies to keep them in a secure and
healthy manner. When the supply room isn’t organized, a delivery man
could be putting things there that don’t belong in the stock room
for an inmate to find later.
16. Intake Entrance
Secure entrance for receiving inmates in and out. With expansion
for up to 2000 inmates. Too often when we build the entrance there
is no room for expansion that may be needed 20 years later.
17. Public Tours
Correctional Facility should be designed for the public to tour it in
an efficient manner. A good facility should be reviewed by the public
in a professional manner on a regular basis—otherwise known
18. Re-entry Program
Correctional Facility should have a robust Re-entry program that
connects the inmate to the community. Employers, housing, medical,
churches and other non-profits should be involved.
19. Certified Re-entry Packet
All inmates leaving the prison should have a Re-entry packet with a
plan that they can show to Employers, Churches, and community groups
to certify their correction. This packet should also include a DVD on
pitfalls inmates might face when leaving the facility, as well as
testimonials of past inmates and professional counselors.
This too will cut back on recidivism.
Positive mottos on the walls would be helpful. When inmates are looking at bare walls it is not very inspiring. It would be a good motivation for them to have positive sayings for them to read when they walk back and forth from their day rooms and open spaces. Maybe we could have community groups sponsor these murals, mottos, and statements so there wouldn’t be a cost to the Correctional Facility.
21. Medical Unit
The medical unit should be up to date and large enough to handle
the needs of the inmates and staff, and again space for expansion.
Maybe a few medical cells in the unit could be helpful. Again, the
medical unit is often in the center of the prison and
cannot expand if needed.
22. Break Room for Employees
Break room should include able space for employees. Amenities
available could be snacks, drinks, tv, video training, tables, and chairs
that you can relax in and catch a 15-minute nap. Too often prison
employees are required to work a double shift and a refreshing/relaxing
break time would help employees to not act out in
frustration because of extreme tiredness.
23. Communication Equipment & Cameras
There should be communication equipment & cameras throughout
the Correctional Facility and outside the walls which can be
observed at several key locations inside the facility.
24. Security Pods
Security pods should be located throughout the Correctional Facility
that can be managed safely if a trouble should break out.
25. Restricted Housing
There should be pods for restricted housing when inmates are uncooperative.
These units should not be used long term, but the intention
would be for up to a week.
26. Inmate Volunteer Program
Continue the program designed for a volunteer coordinator to pick
up a van load of inmates and take them to a non-profit or public
organizations to mow grass, paint, repair fences or trails in the
woods and do other projects for the benefit of the community,
such as has been happening in the past. We should provide
opportunities for offenders to do good.
Dr. Tom Zeager, President of Justice & Mercy
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