Mercer County may privatize jail

MERCER, Pa. (WKBN) – Just weeks after receiving a 100 percent rating from the Pennsylvania State Department of Corrections, union leaders at the Mercer County Jail are questioning why the Mercer County Prison Board is thinking about privatizing it.

Members of the Mercer County Prison Board, who oversee the jail in Mercer County, said the answer to rising costs may be to hire an outside company to run the lockup. Members of the board gathered Tuesday to discuss the possibility.

“We are looking at possibly doing requests for proposals and go that way, but we have not sent any out,” said Tom Amundsen, Mercer County Prison Board Chairman. “The last few years commissioners have not raised taxes. This year is really a tough year. We are just looking at that part.”

Although the idea is still a long way from becoming reality, it is already not sitting well with some employees and residents.

Shop Steward Ross Livermore with Teamsters Local 250 said officers at the county jail are providing a quality service to the community that can’t easily be replaced.

“It is not only taxpayers dollars that the commissioners and prison board need to worry about, it is the quality of service that we will be getting from these companies,” said Livermore.

Columbiana County privatized their operations and uses Corrections Education Center(CEC). The company is paid just over $3 million to operate the jail in Lisbon, which has 100 fewer beds than Mercer. The agreement saves Columbiana County about $1 million per year.

Recently, CEC officials toured the Mercer County Jail but no other negotiations or move to elicit a bid from the company occurred. No official proposals have been solicited or submitted from any company.

Amundsen said he wants to make sure the employees at the jail are taken care of no matter what the board decides to do with operations.

“Even if we did go down the road of privatization, it would have to be the company would have to look to hire all the people who are working here,” Amundsen said.

Sue Snyder of Jefferson Township and other residents were at Tuesday’s meeting. She and others think it is a gamble to hire an outside company and one the county can’t afford.

“It has been proven time and again over the years in various places that it has been a problem and has presented rising costs,” Snyder said.

Board members are expected to make a decision by the end of the year.

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