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Fayette prison board wants to cut crowding

| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 11:06 p.m.

With plans for a new Fayette County jail on hold despite two years of planning, the prison board on Wednesday discussed ways to cut back on crowding at the 125-year-old facility in Uniontown.

Warden Brian Miller said the jail had 235 inmates in house, with 191 males and 44 females. Fifty-one male inmates are housed in rented cells in Greene and Bedford counties, he said.

Miller said the jail doubled its capacity for female inmates by housing all of them on the third floor. He could not be reached for comment for additional details after the meeting.

Miller said the county has paid $499,082 for inmate rentals through July, just short of $550,000 that commissioners budgeted for rentals this year.

“That's a surprise, that it was budgeted low,” said District Attorney Jack Heneks, a prison board member.

Heneks suggested the county allocate more money to a program that helps indigent inmates foot the cost of intermediate punishment as a sentence, as opposed to a jail term.

“When we charge defendants $450 a month to wear an ankle bracelet, a lot can't afford it and go to jail,” Heneks said.

Intermediate punishment usually includes a period of house arrest. Defendants are responsible for a variety of fees, including one for an ankle bracelet that monitors their location.

Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink said $22,000 was budgeted for the program this year, with $15,000 added in July at the court's request.

Zimmerlink said she recently received a letter from a business she did not identify regarding the possibility of a work-release program. The jail does not have such a program.

Zimmerlink said she will gather additional details on the proposal before reporting back to the board.

Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky said he is continuing to work on finding an alternative to building a jail outside of Uniontown.

He and Zimmerlink on Aug. 19 voted to suspend all progress on plans to build a $32 million facility on land off Mt. Braddock Road in North Union and Dunbar townships.

The project was set to go to bid. Planning was spearheaded by Commissioner Al Ambrosini and the volunteer Prison Working Group.

Zapotosky and Zimmerlink said they want to explore other options that might prove less costly.

Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com

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