PITTSBURGH — Lafayette County commissioners recently approved a $31 million jail facility in Pittsburgh. The 480-bed structure will replace the current 124-year-old Uniontown Jail, address overcrowding issues and bring the county to full correctional facility standards compliance.
Constructed well before the turn of the 20th century, the Uniontown Jail now houses approximately 250 inmates – many of whom sleep on cots in common areas due to lack of living space. Following a recent evaluation, officials also found that the existing structure complies with just 43 percent of American correctional facility standards.
Architectural firm Crabtree Rohrbaugh Associates of Mechanicsburg have already conducted a prison-needs assessment and feasibility study, finding that new construction would be more effective and economically sound than renovation or expansion. Design plans include a district magistrate's office, a central booking station, courtroom and a visitation area for inmates and their families. “The fact that we hired an architect to…build the most efficient and cost-effective facility we can possibly build is a great start,” said Lafayette County Commissioner Al Ambrosini.
Though Ambrosini and fellow Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky support the findings, Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink opposed the new facility, raising concerns over the project’s rapid pace and her colleagues’ insistence that rental and transportation costs to house inmates in other counties will continue to rise. The board currently pays neighboring counties to house an additional 77 inmates at a cost of roughly $1 million annually, said County Controller Sean Lally. Lally estimates that those costs could increase to roughly $1.5 million over the coming year. However, Zimmerlink countered that average out-of-county jail costs were well under $700,000 annually.
Commissioners have selected county land in Dunbar Township as the site for this new, state-of-the-art structure. As the land is adjacent to the county’s fair grounds — and has been rezoned specifically for the new jail buildings — the move has drawn criticism from some residents. In response, Zapotosky said, “We've been putting a bandage on a problem. It's politically incorrect, but somebody's got to do it.” However, Zimmerlink contends that more time should have been allowed for discussion and reviewing the county’s options.
Though residents also raised concerns over funding the new jail venture, it appears construction costs will not be the burden of Lafayette County taxpayers. Rather, the new jail will be funded by casino revenue and monies paid to the county by Marcellus Shale. The board will also lease an additional building for use as a women’s facility until the new structure is complete. According to Ambrosini the new Lafayette County jail will open in November 2015.