Last Wednesday, December 14th, the Peace & Justice Committee of Community Mennonite Church hosted a town hall to address and inform our neighbors of a historic public works initiative. Lancaster’s largest and most complex project to date totaling over $150 million. The prospective Lancaster County Correctional Facility would replace the current prison at 625 E. King Street. The current conditions, regarding climate control and spacing (among others), are practically unlivable.
The group of speakers made up of faith leaders from around the county included:
Jeffrey Hawkes of Community Mennonite Church, in for Lancaster Bail Fund president Michelle Batt
Reverend Matt Lenahan of POWER Interfaith and Zion Lutheran Church in Akron
Reverend Jason Perskowski of Oregon Community UMC in Manheim Township
Kent Kroehler of Have A Heart for Persons in the Criminal Justice System
Most of the conversation directed towards bail reform and the methods our county commissioners and prison board can use to right-size the facility and significantly reduce Lancaster’s incarcerated population. According to a projection in the board’s recent needs assessment report draft, if Lancaster’s justice system maintains its current form and function, the number of people who become incarcerated will only continue to increase over the next thirty years. Unfortunately, decision makers including commissioners Ray D’Agostino, Josh Parsons, and John Trescot were not in attendance as they declined their invitations.
“The criminal justice system requires [the general public to be] indifferent and ignorant.”
- Reverend Matt Lenahan
The less informed everyday citizens are, the more power these decision makers have to trap people within the system. As of September of this year, 69% of those currently incarcerated in Lancaster County are awaiting trial, meaning they have not been sentenced and also cannot afford bail to be released while they wait. Hawkes reminds us that bail is a system against the poor. Looking at the numbers, 20% of Lancaster’s impoverished population lives in the city. That’s 11,000 people out of Lancaster City’s nearly 60,000 total population.
Describing the methods our commissioners should consider when right-sizing the new correctional facility, Kent Kroehler emphasizes these specific actions:
Closing the work release program
This program provides a leave of absence from prison, allowing incarcerated people to pursue employment
Kroehler says if a person can be trusted to leave prison and interact safely with others, perhaps probation is a more efficient option
Decrease jail use for non-violent parole or probation violations
Increase treatment and diversion courts
For cases of drug use and/or mental health crises (including parole and probation violations), counseling services and rehabilitation should be prioritized
Diversion courts should also provide paths towards educational progress for those seeking high school diplomas, GEDs, and/or secondary education
These crucial changes made to the bail system and overall criminal justice system would drastically decrease the population of incarcerated people. Over time, more energy could be put toward making space within and outside of the Lancaster County Correctional Facility to provide people with more effective treatment and services.
Constructive reform will undoubtedly be beneficial to the foundation of our community here in Lancaster. By minimizing the number of people desocialized by incarceration, the unemployment rate will be lowered and taxpayer dollars will be going toward productive, solution-based services. More importantly, families will remain intact.
Below is a list of ways you can get involved in the action happening in our community to enact change.
Get familiar with the LCCF website, which will be updated over time (lccf-pa.com)
Email questions and concerns to: email@example.com
Visit the county website for more documents and resources (co.lancaster.pa.us)
Attend Prison Board Meetings
9:15AM every third Thursday
Room 701 in the County Government Center (150 N. Queen Street 17603)
Zoom Meetings every second and fourth Wednesday
Donate to the Lancaster Bail Fund
Engage in study/talk groups (stay tuned for Changemaker Chats)