Lehigh Valley

Northampton County shelves plans for new prison

Money set aside for study to be reallocated.

EASTON, Pa. - The president of Northampton County Council said officials are temporarily shelving plans for a new county jail.

Council President John Cusick said during Wednesday’s budget meeting that a proposed study for a new prison are on hold for now. When asked about the potential new county prison after the meeting, he said that amendments will be added to the proposed 2018 budget to reallocate $1.47 million that was to go toward a study.

The reallocated money could go toward open space and farmland preservation or to a study on a potential new county morgue, Cusick said.

Northampton County Executive John Brown had previously proposed the idea for a new prison. But Lamont McClure, who defeated Brown in the November election, had opposed the idea during his campaign.

Cusick said after the meeting that he had recently spoken with McClure, who had reiterated that he was not interested in pursuing the idea of building a new prison.

A public outcry had erupted recently over talk of building a new prison, including the suggestion of possibly building the facility behind the county-owned Gracedale nursing home in Upper Nazareth Township.

Council members discussed capital improvements for Gracedale, the county’s open space initiative and the county corrections budget at Wednesday’s budget meeting.

Proposed capital improvements to Gracedale include $150,000 for construction of a therapeutic garden and $250,000 roof repairs to the home’s arcade. Also included in the budget are $200,000 upgrades to the nursing home’s elevators and the $550,000 construction of an overhang for the drive-in area for ambulances.

Council members discussed several municipalities that had requested grant money from the county as part of Northampton County’s open space initiative.

Among other requests from several municipalities, Bethlehem Township had asked for nearly $74,000 to aid in phase three of its plan to make improvements to Housenick Memorial Park. These improvements would include installing a gazebo and creating a pollinator garden.

Director of Corrections Daniel Keen said he was requesting a budget allocation of $28.1 million, a 6.4 percent decrease from last year. The money would go toward, among other things, more Community Emergency Response Team gear, fire containment equipment and more writing desks for inmates.

Also at the meeting, Cusick said he hoped that the incoming administration will look into potentially building a new morgue in the county, including mulling over potential sites and figuring out the cost of such a project. He said after the meeting that council had been discussing the issue for several years.

The current morgue and forensics center is not equipped to handle the current volume of cases the county receives, Cusick said.

The county’s deadline for adopting the 2018 budget is Dec.14.

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