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February 19, 2014

Cambria prison costs go down

EBENSBURG — Despite increases in food and labor, the Cambria County Prison was able to house an inmate at the facility for $6 less per day in 2013 than in the previous year.

In his annual report to the Cambria County Prison Board, Warden John Prebish said the average daily cost per inmate was $47.91 per day, down from $54 in 2012.

“Our numbers were higher (than the previous year) and that helps a lot,” Prebish said Wednesday.

The annual report comes days before officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections will be in town to inspect the Cambria Township facility.

A similar inspection went so well in 2012 that the prison was exempted from an inspection last year, President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder said.

“That is an unbelievable prison. There was no inspection in 2013 because it was so good,” Lengenfelder said.

Keeping society safe comes with a hefty price tag. The 2013 operating budget for the prison was about $10 million, a cost eased a little by the $2.8 million in revenue brought in by housing inmates from other agencies.

The Cambria prison is one of a handful across the state that houses people who have violated state parole. It also continues to house those picked up for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

With the highest percentage of inmates incarcerated for crimes within Cambria County, the average daily population in 2013 was 505, Prebish said.

The facility, built in the mid-1990s, has 493 permanent beds, meaning at times inmates are housed in common areas, sleeping on expandable, stackable cots.

“We use them from time to time. We’re allowed to do it,” Prebish said.

Keeping the population at a manageable level is a challenge, said Cambria County Sheriff Bob Kolar, who is president of the prison board.

“I think it’s going pretty well,” Kolar said.

His department works closely with the prison to get the inmates headed into the state system shipped out in a timely fashion.

With the high cost of transportation and limited deputies available for transport, the sheriff and Prebish work to coordinate trips, taking as many inmates as possible in a single trip.

Whether deliver inmates elsewhere or bring them in for court appearances, Kolar said, his department averages three out-of-county trips daily.

“We try to group them, but there is so many of them,” he said.

Feeding the inmates remains a large part of the annual budget, but the recent addition of Nutrition Inc., which provides menu and other guidance along with greater buying power, has helped bring costs down.

A couple of years ago, before the company was contracted, the county was spending $1.50 per day, per inmate. Today that cost averages $1.02 to $1.05  per day per inmate, Prebish said.

“We are bulk buying and we brought in an extra freezer from the old jail,” Prebish said. “The guys fixed it up and it’s helping.”

As for the upcoming inspection, Prebish said it goes a lot further than checking for peeling paint.

“We’re working on our stuff now,” he said. “There’s a lot more than just them looking around and making sure people are fed and taken care of.”

Key are policies at the prison and how they are implemented by the administration and corrections officers, he said.

Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.

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