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United Way of Lancaster County


County commissioners to vote on correctional facility programming draft

A pie chart shows preliminary space allocations for the Lancaster County Correctional Facility, inset in an aerial image of the facility’s site. (Source: Lancaster County)

Update, Jan. 30: See Commissioners, warden endorse building a smaller correctional facility

Previously reported:

The Lancaster County commissioners are poised this week to take their next official step in the development of the county’s new correctional facility.

On their agenda is a vote to approve the project’s “programming” document. The motion is scheduled for discussion at Tuesday’s 10 a.m. work session, then a vote at Wednesday’s 9:15 a.m. meeting. Both sessions are to take place at the County Government Center, 150 N. Queen St.

Released late last year, the 136-page programming draft builds on the needs assessment that preceded it in late 2022. Consulting firm CGL, the county’s “owner’s rep,” prepared both documents.

Working from the needs assessment and information gathered and reviewed in project meetings, the programming draft lays out space allocations for the facility’s functions — housing, staff areas, medical facilities and so on — and maps their interrelationships.

The next step is schematic design: Translating the program into an actual spatial layout. The commissioners’ proposed motion includes a provision that “proposed schematic design materials shall identify options for a phased approach to construction.”

That would be a way for the county to address the uncertainty inherent in trying to project space needs decades into the future: For example, it could build a smaller number of housing units at first, while providing a plan for adding more and designing core areas that are large enough to support them if and when they need to be constructed.

Disclaimers in the programming draft emphasize that it is only “a guide for the design team” and that its specifications are provisional and subject to change.

“Design is an iterative process,” one disclaimer reads. “… As such, it is not uncommon for elements such as square footages included within the program document to vary up to the point of procuring construction contracts.”

The majority of public debate has centered on the proposed facility’s size. The needs assessment and programming draft both imply a facility size of more than 1,200 beds, based on forecasts out to 2050.

Click to enlarge. (Source: Lancaster County Correctional Facility needs assessment presentation, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022)

Local advocates say the county could reduce its projected space needs significantly by pursuing judicial reforms and alternatives to incarceration, building on efforts that cut the County Prison population from a peak of 1,300 or so about a decade ago to an average in the mid-700s in recent years.

County leaders and judges have said they already are working hard to keep individuals out of prison whenever possible; and that it would not serve the community to build a facility that’s too small.