Lancaster County’s top government leaders are in agreement that a farm just south of Lancaster city should be the location of a new prison.
The seven-member Lancaster County Prison Board -- whose members include the district attorney, controller, sheriff and president judge -- unanimously recommended Thursday that the county purchase a 75-acre tract of land along the Conestoga River owned by Clyde and Shirley Kreider.
The resolution is a non-binding recommendation that the county move forward with the proposed property acquisition, which was announced earlier this month.
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The county’s board of commissioners, whose three members also sit on the Prison Board, will take up the matter next Wednesday and are expected to approve the deal.
Under the proposal, the county would pay the Kreider family $3 million for the property. Approval by the commissioners next week would start the clock ticking on a 90-day due diligence period. If the property cannot be zoned for use as a prison or if other problems are discovered, the county can back out of the deal.
Commissioner Ray D’Agostino said the county put together a team in January 2020 to find a site for a new facility to replace the aging prison in Lancaster city. County Engineer Mark Lauriello, of Rettew Associates Inc., said the criteria for the new site was that it be at least 45 acres and have minimal impact on residential neighborhoods. It also could be no more than five miles from the county courthouse in Lancaster city; should sit within a designated growth area; have access to a road, public water and sewer service; and not already be subject to an active development project.
Lauriello said nine properties fit the criteria, and the Kreider property was the preferred site due to its location, proximity to the courthouse and limited residential impact.
Design of the new prison has not started, as county leaders insist that the property acquisition be completed first. But commissioners and others have discussed a 1,200-bed facility that could cost between $100 million and $200 million to build. It would replace the county’s existing 1,085 bed prison in Lancaster city, portions of which were built in the 19th century.
Three people who live near the proposed site spoke at Thursday’s hearing to voice their opposition to the plan.
Austin Beiler, who lives on Willow Street Pike near the Kreider property, said he was surprised to hear the site was being eyed as a new prison location.
“Had we known that, we never would have purchased the property,” he said. “I’ve spoken with a bunch of neighbors … and I’m just asking if we can take a step back before we vote on this.”
Michelle and Meade Stoner, who live on Highland Avenue, said building a prison at this location would mark a dramatic change for their family.
“Over the last 20 years behind our house, where the cemetery is and where that field lies has been a sanctuary for our family,” Michelle said. “We ride our bikes back there, we sit on the hill that overlooks the field and rest. I know that is not going to change the decisions you are making here about purchasing that property, I just want you to hear and to know that that has been a very integral part of our lives, that space.”
Commissioner Parsons said that he appreciated the residents’ input.
“These are really constructive comments, I especially wanted to thank the neighbors who came today,” he said. “It is incumbent upon us to listen to their concerns, to hear them out legitimately. I think this is obviously a concern to them … and I just want to say that is legitimate and I appreciate the constructive way they have approached it.”
Hannah Deboer, a Millersville University sociology and philosophy student who described herself as a prison abolitionist, spoke as well. She raised the issue of individuals in pretrial detainment, who make up about 70% of the county prison’s population, and the harm of incarceration in general.
She suggested a moratorium on prison construction and a shift in resources to community programs for rehabilitation outside of a prison setting.
The board members did not respond to Deboer’s suggestions.