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Some renew call for building new lockup in Fayette

| Friday, April 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Fayette County spent close to $1 million in a 14-month period on jail rental fees paid to other counties, prompting some prison board members to point out the need for a new lockup.

“The writing's on the wall here,” Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky said at a board meeting Wednesday. “We're making payments for somebody, and the taxpayers need to understand that we are supplementing Greene County's budget.”

Fayette spent $873,813 over the past 14 months to house excess prisoners elsewhere, according to Controller Sean Lally.

The county prison can hold a maximum of 262 inmates. The county pays rental fees that range from $55 to $78 per day per inmate at other jails.

Fayette has so many inmates in Greene County's prison that Greene won't accept any more, Warden Brian Miller said. Greene is holding 62 of Fayette's inmates, he said, because the Fayette jail is near capacity with 251 inmates.

If he needs more cells, Miller said he will ship inmates to Cambria County at a cost of $55 per day. Westmoreland's prison is not an option, he said, because its rental fee is $78 daily.

“We're getting them out as fast as we possibly can, but you get 10 out, and you get 20 in,” Miller said.

Overcrowding could become worse because the courts have implemented a new system that allows constables to serve summary warrants after regular business hours, Zapotosky said. There are 5,000 such warrants waiting to be served.

Commissioner Al Ambrosini said a new prison would allow for implementation of various programs aimed at reducing recidivism. The existing jail cannot accommodate the programs, he said, which include those aimed at addressing mental health issues and drug and alcohol addiction.

“That is our opportunity to help these people, to get them to understand why it is that they made bad decisions,” Ambrosini said. “We can teach them, we can counsel these people; help them get back on track, instead of going through the revolving door that is our prison.”

The programs were identified by a prison working group examining ways to improve operations at the jail. Some of the issues the group is addressing are finding a location for a new prison and identifying possible revenue streams to pay for it.

Ambrosini said the group intends to present its findings to the prison board by the end of the year or by early 2014. If a new prison is approved by commissioners, he said it could be built and ready to open by 2015.

Miller asked the board to consider allowing constables to be hired to guard inmates who are hospitalized. He said having officers guard such inmates, especially when they must go to Pittsburgh, typically results in overtime costs of at least $30 per hour.

The board directed Miller to put the request in writing so that it can be reviewed by their solicitor. In addition, board members suggested that Miller look into hiring more part-time officers to cut back on other overtime costs.

Sheriff Gary Brownfield said the county paid $39,000 in overtime to corrections officers over the last two pay periods.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or

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