Lehigh Valley

Residents speak out against possibility of prison on Gracedale property

UPPER NAZARETH TWP., Pa. - Their message is clear: no jail in their backyard.

People living in the Eagles Landing housing development, in Upper Nazareth Township created a petition with more than one thousand signatures against building a new jail behind Gracedale, the county-owned nursing home.

"It's not the place for it," Nazareth resident Jenna Hausman said. "We are concerned if anyone escapes we are concerned about our property values."

But according to some Northampton county officials, the whole thing is just a rumor.

"This whole issue about putting a jail at Gracedale is completely factitious," Northampton County Executive John Brown said.

Brown said the existing prison in Easton, originally built in 1871, is outdated and in need of a total overhaul.

"It is literally disintegrating on itself overall," Brown said.

In June the county hired an architectural firm, to analyze the county jail programs and suggest improvements for a newly designed jail.

Brown said the report is not finished but much of what he anticipated the report to say, is reality.

"The jail itself we are over spending over $6 million on that facility because of the inefficiencies," Brown said. 

Still people living in the area say they feel like there is a lack of transparency from the county.

Council members said nothing is set in stone and Northampton County has an eye on 12 sites, including Gracedale for a potential jail.

Officials, including a few running for seats in county government in November made big promises at this question and answer session Sunday at Tuskes Park.

"I'm going to tell you that I will never vote for [a prison] on Gracedale property in Upper Nazareth," Councilmember Hayden Phillips said. "That is not something I would ever endorse."

County executive candidate Lamont McClure said he is also against the idea.

As it stands now, the 350-acre Gracedale property is not zoned to allow a jail.

Before a jail could be built, Upper Nazareth Township's Board of Supervisors would need to approve changing the current zoning laws.

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