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What bars warden's call for a new jail?

| Friday, April 14, 2006

Allegheny County Jail officials disclosed Wednesday that windows will have to be retrofitted with additional bars to prevent prisoners from making relatively easy escape attempts. The project's price tag could be as much as $5.4 million, based on the cost of the few windows repaired so far.

That's bad enough news. Things could get progressively worse if jail administrators begin emulating the example set by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Team officials recently used a brief power outage during a game to dish dirt on an aging Mellon Arena and continue their clamor for a new building.

Facing a more serious and costly problem than a momentary loss of electricity, might Warden Ramon Rustin attempt a similar tactic?

Ripped straight from tomorrow's headlines:

WARDEN UPS DEMAND FOR NEW JAIL

Rustin says he may be forced to incarcerate inmates elsewhere without state-of-the-art facility

PITTSBURGH - Saying Allegheny County's jail is ill-equipped to function as a modern penal institution, Warden Ramon Rustin yesterday called for the lockdown's immediate replacement.

Though he refused to call it a threat, Rustin said he eventually might be forced to entertain overtures from cities that currently lack a large metropolitan prison population.

"Our first preference would be to keep these inmates in Pittsburgh, where many of them were raised and first violated the law," Rustin said. "But the fact of the matter is, we can no longer be competitive with other urban jails in this building."

Though only 11 years old, the lockup needs window renovations that could cost as much as $5.4 million. The upgrades are designed to keep inmates from plunging to painful injury or death when they breach the inadequate security provided by the existing window bars.

But Rustin said simply fortifying the windows won't be nearly enough to solve the building's problems.

Rustin said the jail lacks many amenities of newer big-city correctional institutions such as the one in Portland, Ore., which has modern art sculptures, glass tile, vaulted ceilings and flat-screen TVs.

"I mean, we don't even have an adequate number of drug-detecting ion scanners or video surveillance cameras," he said. "We're rapidly getting to the point where first-rate gangstas simply won't want to come here."

Rustin suggested that the jail partner with the Isle of Capri, which could build the county a new jail next to its proposed casino and near a planned new hockey arena if the company is successful in obtaining the city's sole slots license.

"Such an arrangement would make it extremely convenient for all criminal elements expected to congregate in and around the new casino," he said.

Rustin scoffed at critics who say a new jail is unnecessary because it is used by only a fraction of the population.

"Those people fail to recognize this place for the inclusive community asset that it is," Rustin said. "This jail can be used for extended periods by each and every Allegheny County resident -- provided they commit a crime, of course."

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