The Berks County Commissioners hosted a half-hour long informational town hall to discuss the future of the Berks County Correctional Facility project Thursday evening.
The town hall included County leaders from the project’s Steering Committee and team members from CGL, the owner’s representative firm.
“I think the important thing that we’ve said up front, and this goes back to when we started in 2017 and restarted this a little over a year ago, we are not in a rush to build the new jail” said Berks County Commissioner Christian Leinbach.
“Our goal is to do what needs to be done right and to do it with data that we know is reliable. CGL’s been doing a very good job with that. And finally, to make sure this is done in a very public setting so that the public knows what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, how much it will cost.”
Leinbach added, “I’ve consistently said that I do not believe we are going to be making a decision, a final decision on the jail until late 2023 or early 2024. That’s not set in stone. What is set in stone is we are committed to being transparent and getting as much public input as we possibly can.”
Why a new facility?
The county commissioners recommended the evaluation of new facility based on an assessment and forecast of population and understanding of current judicial system trends and a thorough study of the existing facility. The new facility will be significantly more cost effective to build rather than renovating existing facility with more efficient sustainable space for employees, visitors and the temporarily incarcerated, flexible spaces for rehabilitation.
Why is the name of the facility changing?
The name of the facility changing the new building will be called the Berks County Correctional Facility to reflect the modernized approach to justice and incarceration with a more efficient, sustainable facility for visitors, employees and those temporarily incarcerated for two years or less for those awaiting and transfer to another facility.
Who will be housed at the new facility?
The facility will be will be designed for those temporarily incarcerated for for two years or less awaiting a transfer to another facility.
Sean Bridges, Director of Re-entry Services for The Real Deal 610, attend the town hall to have a few questions answered.
“Will it be accessible for nonprofit organizations to work with inmates? What are the options for inmates being in solitary confinement?” said Bridges.
“Being a former inmate myself, when I went there in 2018, it was different from when I went there in 96. It was more solitary confinement, more lock down. Are you planning on changing that? Because of mental health and being incarcerated, it’s a real struggle these days.”
Stephanie Weaver, Berks County Public Relations Officer responded to Bridges “the population at the jail system is different than it was 20-30 years ago. We’re seeing a lot more people there who are dealing with mental health situations or substance abuse. So that is something that’s been very key in the conversations we’ve been having to look at those populations and how to serve them.”
Ronald Seaman, Chief Administrative Officer also added “So your first question about the solitary confinement, we are sitting with CGL, we’re reviewing all the current industry standards and we’re reviewing our space and that’s part of our mission is to provide compassionate confinement. So we are looking at the whole concept for those, for those individuals and it will be different than what it is now”
Seaman added “As far as re-entry. We are reviewing all that information and we are looking to provide way more programming, more opportunities and working with providing services to get them ready before they go back out into the community.”