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Your Right to Know

County Says It Needs More Time on Pre-release Prison RTK Requests

The Solicitor’s office says it needs until June 7, at the latest, to respond.

The Schuylkill County Solicitor’s office says it needs until June 7, at the latest, to formally respond to a Right to Know request The Canary filed late last week.

In our Right to Know request, we are seeking records related to communications and billing done with a third-party contractor the County has used on and off since 2008 to devise plans for a pre-release prison here.

The County – and numerous Boards of Commissioners through the years – have been desperate to build a pre-release prison to help alleviate overcrowding at the historic lock-up in Pottsville and to help treat people with mental illness and drug addictions who find themselves behind bars.

Two problems have consistently come in the way of those plans: money and … well, money.

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First, the County is having a difficult time finding the money to pay for the construction of such a facility. When it was first kicked around about 20 years ago, the cost to build it would have been about $3 million.

Now, according to Commissioners Chairman Larry Padora, the estimate to build the facility is about $26 million. He also told The Canary that the scope of the project has changed significantly over the years, too.

At first, he said, it was going to be more like a dormitory-style facility but now it’s essentially a prison.

The other issue is the cost of operating the pre-release prison if it’s ever built.

Right now, the County sends inmates who literally don’t fit in the current prison to correctional facilities in other counties. That comes at a cost but is that cost greater or less than the cost of building a pre-release prison here and is it less than what it would cost us to operate that facility on an annual basis.

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So far, the numbers just aren’t adding up for it to be feasible. And while it may be frustrating to some to keep sending these inmates to out-of-county facilities, the money talks and it says, it makes better financial sense to keep doing that.

All the while, there has been one firm tasked with helping the County government figure out what to do with a potential pre-release prison. That’s Crabtree Rohrbaugh & Associates, of Mechanicsburg.

This firm first did a site plan analysis for the County back in 2008. There was another such plan done in 2018 and again in 2023.

This past week, the County Commissioners voted unanimously to extend that 2023 contract until this summer so this firm can keep working on a site option analysis plan.

So, our Right to Know request seeks records that hopefully tell us exactly what the firm’s been told to do, what it has done, what communications have gone on betwen the County and Crabtree, and of course, what it’s cost us to this point.

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We are seeking records dating back to 2008 so when the County informed us on Thursday that it needed to invoke the 30-day extension it has the right to in order to respond, it came as no surprise.

However, the Solicitor’s office is making no guarantees that it will grant the request until it reviews whether the records we’re seeking are available through a RTK request.

The Right to Know request filed with the Schuylkill County Solicitor on May 2 sought the following information:

  • All invoices sent from Crabtree Rohrbaugh & Associates, of Mechanicsburg, to Schuylkill County, dating back to January 2008, as they relate to the proposed Intermediate Punishment Center.
    • + All proofs of payment of those invoices from Schuylkill County to Crabtree Rohrbaugh & Associates.
  • Full text of all written and approved contracts between Schuylkill County and Crabtree Rohrbaugh & Associates since 2008.
    • + Full text of any and all reports meant to fulfill these contracts filed by Crabtree Rohrbaugh & Associates with Schuylkill County.
  • Any emails, letters, memos, or other communications between Crabtree Rohrbaugh & Associates and Schuylkill County officials regarding the proposed Intermediate Punishment Center.
  • Record of any amendments or extensions to the original contracts with Crabtree Rohrbaugh & Associates dating back to 2008, if applicable.

In requesting the extension to respond, the Solicitor’s office says the following:

  • A timely response to the request for access cannot be accomplished due to a bona fide and specific staffing limitations.
  • A legal review is necessary to determine whether the record is a record subject to access under the RTKL (Right to Know Law).
  • The extent or nature of the request precludes a response within the required time period.

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