Committee to study need for new prison
[Butler County, PA]

Karen Kane, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
March 18, 2001, Sunday, North Edition
Copyright 2001 P.G. Publishing Co.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
March 18, 2001, Sunday, North Edition

(BUTLER COUNTY, Penn.) -- A committee of officials and residents has begun looking at whether the county should build a new prison.

Butler County Commissioner Joan Chew, who is heading the committee, told the county prison board last week that her group is organized and ready to tackle business.

The prison board voted in November to appoint a fact-finding committee after ongoing problems with overcrowding. The county spent more than $ 500,000 last year to house prisoners in other facilities because the jailhouse, built in 1956, was full. The cost is $45 a day per prisoner.

In addition, the county spent $1.2 million to renovate the annex last year to handle a portion of the overflow. The annex opened late last year and was full within days.

Chew said the first order of business for the committee is to draft a formal mission statement. The group will meet Thursday in the county government center in Downtown Butler off Main Street. Next will be visiting neighboring jails and compiling detailed cost estimates.

Conventional estimates put the price of a new jail at $65,000 to $75,000 per cell, and Chew predicts Butler County would need at least a 300-cell facility. That would place the cost of a new jail at more than $19 million.

Members of the committee include county employees from the sheriff's office and jail; Butler attorney Leo Stepanian; Scott Lowe, who has worked as a public relations consultant with the county and Butler County Community College and has had a local public access television show; Michael Noyse of the county juvenile court system; Butler Councilman Joe Bratkovich; former Cranberry police officer Jeff Widdowson; Ike and Mike Kelly of Kelly Chevrolet; Tom Holman of county domestic relations; Michael Stowe of Slippery Rock University; Kathy Martin of the local radio station; former District Justice James Galbraith; and Brian Knapp of Saxonburg.

Pharmaceutical shopping

The prison board agreed to follow the recommendation of county Controller John R. "Jack" McMillan Jr. to seek new bids for pharmaceuticals in an effort to save money.

McMillin a member of the board, noted that pharmacy costs have grown from $47,000 in 1997 to $185,000 in 2000, including some non-prescription items.

He presented a study on the issue that predicted that annual costs could be shaved by $30,000 to $40,000.

He said he looked at three vendor prices, including current vendor Eckerd Drug of Butler, and predicted that shopping around could yield an estimated 20 percent savings annually.

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