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United Way of Lancaster County


County commissioners approve program document for new correctional facility

The facility program final report. Main photo: An aerial view of the property where the Lancaster County correctional facility will be built. (Source: Lancaster County)

The Lancaster County commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved the programming document for the county’s planned correctional facility, setting the stage for the project’s next phase, schematic design.

Unveiled late last year and discussed in a public listening session last month, the document sets out space allocations, spatial interrelationships, operational guidelines and other parameters for the new complex, which the county plans to build in Lancaster Township near the Lancaster County Central Park. It was prepared by CGL, the consulting firm serving as the county’s “owner’s representative,” in conjunction with county and prison administrators.

As officials have emphasized, and as is noted in a prominent disclaimer at the beginning, the program’s specifications serve only as guidance, and are subject to change as the project evolves.

The draft approved Wednesday is the third and final version. By midday, a PDF of it had been posted on the project website,

It reflects edits made in response to feedback offered by the commissioners at Tuesday’s work session and last week. Among other things, it notes that while the project should be designed for a total capacity of 1,212 beds, it should allow for an initial build of around 1,000 beds, with room for eventual expansion.

Commissioner Alice Yoder had pushed for an explicit commitment in the text to follow trauma-informed principles in the facility’s design. While that’s not there, she said the report’s components and overall philosophy reflects a trauma-informed approach, and that she’s comfortable with it.

On Tuesday, her colleagues, Commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino, had said that adding the word “trauma informed” would not add anything substantive to the material already in the document.

The next phase, schematic design, will yield floor plans and an overall layout. Schreiner declined to commit to a date for competing the schematics but offered 12 weeks as a rough estimate. Eventually, there will be a rendering, but not for quite a while yet, Director of General Services Bob Devonshire said. Shreiner and Devonshire both serve on the project’s advisory committee.

The Rev. Jason Perkowski, a member of the advocacy group Power Interfaith, asked about transportation access to the facility. That’s a site planning issue, which is why it wasn’t addressed in the program draft, Commissioner D’Agostino said. Devonshire and Warden Cheryl Steberger assured Perkowski the facility will be readily accessible by all means of transportation, be it public bus, car, bicycle or on foot.

Perkowski encouraged the design team to continue prioritizing flexibility, expressing hope that if the county’s trauma-informed approach and efforts to reduce recidivism bear fruit, inmate headcounts could drop below today’s levels, perhaps as low as 600 or so.

For example, he suggested, the county could revisit the question of whether inmates on work-release need to return to the facility every night, or if they could return home under supervision instead.

Steberger and Commissioner Parsons said work release protocols are set by the court system: If it changes, the correctional facility will adjust, but its ability to make alterations itself is sharply limited.

Steberger said she and her team recently met with Judge Merrill Spahn and discussed work release and overall length-of-stay issues. At present, she said, inmates on work release tend not to participate in the prison’s rehabilitation programs; moreover, their regular comings and goings create more opportunities for smuggling contraband.

She said she would like to create more of a “reentry” model for them. The County Prison’s reentry programs, in conjunction with the Lancaster County Reentry Coalition, offer a mix of pre-release and post-release wraparound services to help inmates secure stable jobs, housing and healthcare and avoid reoffending.