Berks County considering privatizing its prison

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Jul 13, 2017 11:11 AM

(Harrisburg) -- A midstate county may need a new prison soon, and one of its leaders is considering working with a private operator.

Berks County Commissioner Mark Scott says he's been talking with one of the major players...

A new prison could cost more than $100 million.

But Commissioner Mark Scott says working with a private prison company could cut those costs and speed up the construction process.

However, private prisons have faced criticism over understaffing, poor medical care, and overcrowding that have led to riots in some places.

Scott says he's done his due diligence, and would make sure such issues wouldn't pop up in Berks County.

"And I'm guaranteeing you that we will grill whoever is a provider or a proposer regarding the quality of their service to make sure that we can minimize that problem, knowing that there's always problems when you're operating a prison," says Scott.

Scott wouldn't say which company he's been talking with about a potential new prison.

"In anything, if you hire somebody to perform a task and you don't stay on top of it, you're asking for trouble. We've been beefing up our contract administration abilities at the county. So I think we can deal with [any problems]," he adds.

He says he isn't convinced going the private route is likely but adds it would be irresponsible to ignore the option.

Scott says about one third of the county's budget goes toward spending at the prison, which houses about 950 inmates.

The union that represents staff would likely strongly oppose any efforts to privatize its operations.

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