Besides jail drawings
What do commissioners have to mull over?
With the Fayette budget crisis coming down to the wire for commissioners to act to implement a revised 2016 budget, focus is
expected to return to resolving the county jail overcrowding and site issue.
From editors at the local rag, to newly elected commissioners, to jail union reps and to letter to the editor writers, all seem eager to
begin determining the best way to resolve the jail woes.
When newly elected commissioners have said a few times that they will begin reviewing the reports and other paperwork to familiarize
themselves with the overall situation to effectively perform their due diligence, one has to wonder what documents exactly that they will
As numerous Right To Know inquiries were made and gathered in recent years from this website to the county concerning the jail and
studies done, there really is little overall for the newly-elected commissioners to review -- except for an architectural drawing of a huge
Face it, there's little else known still, in spite of all of the man hours of "work" that the former jail ad hoc work group committee logged
in under the direction of former commissioner Al Ambrosini.
Right To Know answers received previously here and detailed in archived commentary lacked answers to significant, overlooked
questions which jail planners and experts hired as consultants to perform feasibility studies should have obtained.
For instance, during the time of the four public meetings in 2013, at which former jail architect and feasibility study contractor, Tom
Crabtree, presented his public pitch, the county's Day Reporting Center (DRC) was opening and specialized courts for veterans and
persons with chemical dependencies and mental health issues were starting to be developed to help divert incarcerations.
However, as Right To Know answers showed, oddly, nobody connected to the jail, county and the jail ad hoc work group committees
had bothered to tally how many or how few incarcerated or shipped out of county to rented cages elsewhere met the criteria for the
DRC or specialized courts. Those Right To Know answers, simply, were unknown. One even included an open invitation to this
publication to sift through all of the criminal charges that inmates had against them and dig to see who could qualify for the DRC and
As Right To Know answers sent to this website in, "Al's RTK answer that took the cake," showed, only 2 of the 4 jail ad hoc work
group committees even prepared any reports at all. Of the 457 pages of a Right To Know answer proved, Ambrosini's work group over
2 years of planning produced only 20 pages of reports or letters compiled by the committees. The architectural group leader, in his
often misguided quest to find land without bids, penned the most reports, including documentation that Ambrosini and other officials
met in private with contractors and architects in 2012 and 2013.
No reports at all, meanwhile, were produced by 2 key groups of the jail ad hoc work group committees, the behavioral health group
and the courts, as Right To Know answers indicated. There is so little of Fayette-specific information in any of the Right To Know
answers that the commissioners should breeze right through the contents quickly of their copies of what's in the duplicate county jail
CRABTREE CAN DRAW PRETTY BUT WAS WRONG:
At the time in 2012 and 2013, when Ambrosini started his push for an all-new prison complex, Crabtree quickly came along for the ride
to sell the idea of a new jail to the public, for $28-32 million. While it is easy to understand that Crabtree's misinformation that the firm
price included sewage in Dunbar Township likely resulted from misinformation he received from Ambrosini or engineers, Crabtree has
been proven wrong on just about everything else he pitched to the public at the four town meetings in 2013.
In 2012, Fayette County was paying to house over 60 inmates per month to outside jails due to the county jail being full. Crabtree
adamantly stated repeatedly that DRC and specialized courts would not help at all to decrease the number of inmates needing
incarceration. He said there was a trend across the country that increased populations would always pack our jails, despite any
diversionary efforts of any DRC or specialized courts. Had the county jail ad hoc work group committees done their due diligence,
Crabtree might have realized that Fayette just might not be like everywhere else in this one respect.
In Fayette, we've learned that the DRC and specialized courts and possible other factors have resulted in being able to count on one
hand, for at least the past year, the number of inmates that we house out of county. What has been happening here in Fayette,
however, is not unique to us. State-wide, the PA SCI system didn't follow the Crabtree curve, either, as the state system population
showed 1,200 less prisoners, due to the advent of specialized courts.
That said, newly-elected commissioners sifting through the material about Fayette's options need to know that Crabtree missed the
boat and that nobody in Fayette planning a new industrial jail complex took the time to review the 2012-2013 demographics and
specifics of those incarcerated here.
LOHR'S CAMPAIGN PROMISE:
In 2013, Fayette County started additional shifts for constables to round up those with outstanding warrants. In some cases, 10-year-
old warrants for minor offenses were served. Some jail critics state a belief that this push to pack the jail and inflate the out of county
cage rental costs was deliberate.
During his campaign for county commissioner, Dave Lohr, now in office, said at an October candidate's debate, that he was looking
into the claim that the jail population was deliberately inflated to push for a new industrial size prison. Nobody here is holding her
breath that he would ever pursue this, yet locate one willing jail official or court rep to go on formal record to confirm the speculation.
Some of us, though, anticipate another push in the wrong direction to jam pack the jail and those rented cage cells out of county as
attention again returns soon to the jail overcrowding issue.
With Fayette's dismal financial picture, following Ambrosini's re-election defeat, it's more important now than ever that nobody
deliberately forces the jail population to increase simply to further the new jail cause. Nothing would incite loud outcry from the public
more, except if officials try to ram another no-bid land deal down our throats with counter claims of bid rigging echoing again from
When several thousand voters flocked out on icy roads in January of 2014 to sign petitions to stop Ambrosini's no-bid land deal and
jail planning that violated the Sunshine Act, very few people believed that no action at all should be taken in regard to the jail. That is
probably the worst misconception that Ambrosini and the media helped to promote that divided the public.
Citizens of this county, regardless of which side of the jail issue that they were on, wanted factual information and did not receive it in
most cases. Citizens wanted the bidding process to follow County Code and the law. Citizens wanted Ambrosini to can the drama,
instead of saying we can't kick the can down the road any longer and need an industrial size prison to profit from housing other
prisoners from other counties or states.
Ambrosini maintained his charade with help from the media that monthly costs to house inmates outside of Fayette totaled $200,000
consistently. He was not truthful about actual out of county costs, not even when the larger 60 some inmates dropped to 8. The media
failed to point it out. The media also failed to point out, during the worst of the jail battle, that it costs almost the same daily dollar
amount to house a prisoner downtown than it does to house a prisoner out of county.
The originally quoted $28 million - $32 million price tag for Ambrosini's dream jail was wrongly under priced. The no-bid land selected
was a pyrite jungle, still on the market -- i.e., despite Ambrosini's half-baked claims at a public meeting, while taunting a citizen who
lived nearby, that his no-bid land choice quickly was sold to another bidder once the jail project halted and that something much worse
than a jail would be built there.
Nobody at odds with Ambrosini and his warped jail plan wanted absolutely no corrective action at all to be taken downtown at the
county lock up. That fact is likely the only common ground that both sides shared.
Perhaps acknowledging that nobody wants the old jail site to remain as is might be the only wise starting point for commissioners to
embrace when re-opening the county jail discussions. Citizens expect officials to perform their due diligence adequately in the matter
and will not hesitate to break public speaking policies should another such under-handed deal as Ambrosini's shelved plan be on the