No Jail at Gracedale – Community meeting held at Tuskes Park on October 15, 2017
Jeanna Hausman & Christine Woodmansee, both residents of Eagle’s Landing, organized a Q & A session for Nazareth residents concerning reports about a prison being built in the land adjacent to Gracedale. Invited speakers were given three minutes to make remarks.
Lamont McClure – Candidate for County Executive
Mr. McClure said he led the fight to prevent Gracedale from being sold to a private corporation, and he definitely opposes building a jail at that site now. That piece of land has been considered for a prison in the past and the Prison Advisory Board, in their meeting minutes, has identified that site as the best place for the county to build a new jail. McClure said the public has every right to be concerned about this issue.
John Brown – Current County Executive and on the ballot November 7th
Mr. Brown opened by claiming the reports of the land around Gracedale being considered for a prison were completely fictitious and that this issue is being used as a distraction before the election. He followed this with a campaign speech, accusing McClure of trying to ‘inflame’ the public’ and a lot of talk about bridges and taxes. He closed by saying the current prison is thirty-years past its shelf life.
Hayden Phillips – Councilman and Candidate on the ballot November 7th
Mr. Phillips said he is for doing a study to see if we need a new prison and, if we do, what site would be best. He vowed to vote ‘no’ on erecting a prison on Gracedale property.
Ron Heckman – Candidate for County Council and on the ballot November 7th
Mr. Heckman says he has had family members in Gracedale and that he strongly supports the facility. He pointed out that the prison issue has been around for decades and that moving to a new facility is ill advised because, currently, the prison population is falling.
Ron Angle – Candidate for County Council
Mr. Angle was listed on the agenda but did not show up to speak.
Questions from the Public
Do we really need a new prison?
Brown says he is committed to building a new prison because he’s concerned about inefficiencies of the current facility. He claims the old structure is costing $6 million a year because of problems, and is not safe for prisoners or staff.
Bait & Switch: What other land is available to build a prison?
Brown said the county owns the property around Gracedale and that no one wants a new jail, but one is needed. An engineering firm, DLR, is exploring all options. (Editor’s Note: It would be pretty weird for an engineering firm in the business of designing prisons to NOT advocate for building a jail).
McClure pledged to not build a new prison in any boro, township, or city in Northampton County.
Phillips said he did not support using any parkland to build a jail or to put it in a place where it would decrease property values. He’d prefer to use land at an industrial park.
Heckman said he wanted to see solid numbers on renovating the old prison instead of building a brand new one.
Would the prison make people move away from Nazareth and could that prison have a detrimental effect on the school system?
Brown pledged to present his response on this issue before the election on November 7th and also talked about bridges and other campaign related stuff.
Would there be a possibility of the prison being used for profit or to benefit a corporation?
McClure says he thinks for-profit prison are prohibited by Pennsylvania State law.
Phillips says he doesn’t support the privatization of prisons.
Heckman said he would be against taking in federal prisoners for money. (Editor’s Note: This has been mentioned as a selling point of building a new prison to specifications).
Brown said he had no intention to privatize the prison or turn it over to a private operator. He also said there were no other viable properties in Northampton County for a jail.
If the Council doesn’t put a prison at Gracedale will they establish a 1) drug treatment center, 2) juvenile facility, 3) halfway house, or 4) women’s incarceration facility at that site?
McClure – No to all
Phillips – No to all
Why is the survey being done by an engineering firm instead of a need’s assessment committee and why are we having this discussion only three weeks before the election?
Brown talked about bridges some more and protecting the taxpayers.
Phillips said he was for government transparency, pointed out that, as executive, Brown doesn’t have to go to the council for approval of any charge under $100,000. Brown gave $72,000 to DLR and commissioned the survey on his own.
McClure gave a list of disturbing actions Brown has taken to not be transparent in office including the time he employed sheriffs to keep a council member out of a press conference. He also pointed out that, had Brown used county resources, the prison study could have been done for free and the public would have known about it all along. By commissioning the engineering firm, Brown was able to keep the study out of the public’s eye.
Brown said the DLR report is due to come out at the end of October, it will be brought before the council, and will become part of the public record
How many studies has DLR done for the country, how much have they been paid and was a competitive bidding process used in this case?
Brown pointed out that it was within his discretion to hire the engineering firm.
What are the long-term plans for this land?
McClure said that, when the country tried to privatize Gracedale, the deal would have included the land and that the county council has always viewed the land as an asset. McClure vowed to keep the land for agricultural use.
Heckman stated he’s in favor of preserving farmland.
Brown said he has no intention of doing anything with that land. (Editor’s Note: After a while it became impossible to take Brown seriously on any statement)
Do the Upper Nazareth Supervisors control the zoning on this land and do they have the power to stop the project?
Brown said yes, the supervisors could stop the project if they wanted to.
McClure said a ruling by the State Appellate Court would probably lead to the supervisors being sued and the court would likely force through the zoning change, allowing the prison to be built.
Becky Bartlett covers government meetings and community events like this once because residents have a right to know what their government is doing.