Lehigh Valley

Nazareth-area residents say no to jail at Gracedale

Officials say decision about the jail is years off

EASTON, Pa. - Northampton County officials took heat Thursday from Nazareth-area residents concerned a proposed county jail would end up in their backyards.

James Cunningham was one of many demanding answers Thursday as he asked for a new feasibility study to be done on potential locations for a new jail. Cunningham also asked how much money the county had spent on the project already.

As a resident of Lower Nazareth Township, Councilman Hayden Phillips shared his concern with community members.

“So you know where I stand,” he said.

But Phillips noted nothing had been decided, and that council hadn’t heard any concrete plans for the jail.

Residents grew frustrated with council’s inability to answer questions, accusing them of trying to push the prison through without consulting the public.

Northampton County has an eye on 12 sites for a potential jail, including Gracedale, the county's nursing home in Upper Nazareth Township. The large property also houses the county's 911 center.

Northampton County contracted with DLR Group in June to see whether DLR’s building plan could overlap with the county prison’s functionality and programs. Officials are waiting on results before committing to a full engineering contract and council members maintain the study hasn’t come back yet.

“Everything is speculation,” Councilman Mathew Benol said.

Christine Woodmansee and Jenna Housemond, who started a Facebook page and petition campaign, said they wouldn’t let a jail into a community of young families and elders.

“Nazareth is too important to us,” Woodmansee said.

County Executive John Brown said the $75,000 contract with DLR Group was to review the programming, such as drug therapy and job training, in the county’s current jail. The anticipated report will assess whether the programs Northampton Department of Corrections has can better fit into the existing building or if it would be more beneficial to build a new design, at a new site.

The report is “not even close” to being a new feasibility study, Brown said. Instead, getting a look at prison programming would inform the county where to build, what shape would work best and how to finance the construction.

“Of course we’re going to look at property we own,” Brown said before admitting the county hadn’t decided whether it would be better to build new or rehab on site.

Building or renovating the jail would require both a public bidding process and millions of dollars in design work that would take three to four years, Brown said.

“It’s not ‘cart before the horse,'” Brown said. “We’re not on the road yet.”

The anti-jail effort coordinates through the “No Jail at Gracedale” Facebook group. So far the group has collected more than 1,000 signatures opposing a jail in Upper Nazareth Township.

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