Wayne ditches prison merger idea

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 1/18/22

HONESDALE, PA — According to a statement on the county website, the Wayne County Commissioners have chosen not to pursue merging its Wayne County Correctional Facility with the prison in Pike …

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Wayne ditches prison merger idea

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HONESDALE, PA — According to a statement on the county website, the Wayne County Commissioners have chosen not to pursue merging its Wayne County Correctional Facility with the prison in Pike County. The decision comes after a six-month feasibility study and backlash from local law enforcement agencies opposing the idea.

In response to the county’s “declining financial performance” between 2016 and 2019—during which Wayne County’s unreserved fund balance dropped from a surplus of $5.3 million to a deficit of $1.2 million—the commissioners began looking for opportunities to cut costs and boost revenue. Hoping to accomplish both, the commissioners considered making changes to its prison operation, the most expensive department in the county in terms of net cost, accounting for 16 percent of the general fund expenditure budget. According to a PA County Prison Report from 2019, Wayne County had the highest cost per inmate out of all 67 counties across the commonwealth.

The commissioners attribute the inefficiency to a steadily declining inmate population (down from 126 in 2014, to 63 in 2021) which they say is due in part to a statewide trend to avoid incarceration in favor of strategies like drug court, intermediate punishment and house arrest.

The county contracted Sweeney Corrections Consulting which found “the only significant opportunity to reduce costs was to consolidate with Pike.” By merging, Wayne County would have housed its inmates in Pike County, allowing the Wayne facility to be repurposed for other uses.

Law enforcement officials—state police, corrections officers, the sheriff’s department—throughout the area came out strongly opposed to the idea. The PA State Troopers Association wrote a letter referring to the potential merger as a “closure” that would prolong police officers’ response times as they transported prisoners all the way into Pike County. The opposition culminated in a protest outside of the Wayne County Courthouse in October.

“It was expressed by internal stakeholders that there is a high-quality correctional experience at Wayne County Correctional Facility that benefits the entire community, and this benefit can’t be quantified or underestimated,” the commissioners wrote in a statement last November. “Leaving the prison operations as they are will allow Wayne County to control that experience.”

A full report on the decision not to pursue this merger can be found at www.waynecounty.gov.

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