SUNBURY - The use of a holding cell at Northumberland County Prison officially began Friday and is expected to save the county more than $200,000 per year in housing costs and free up police officers' time.

The holding cell is on the bottom floor of the prison, where five cells already exist.

Under the holding cell system, individuals who commit crimes between 4:30 p.m. and 8 a.m. on weekdays will be taken by police to the prison, where they will be held for arraignment the next day by the magisterial district judge in whose jurisdiction the crime occurred.

For defendants detained on weekends, the on-call district judge will appear in person or by video within 48 hours or on the next business day without unnecessary delay.

"The holding cell will save money and time for everyone involved," commented county commissioner and prison board member Stephen Bridy. "This will prevent us from housing pre-arraigned inmates for more than 48 hours. We are currently housing some inmates five days longer than we need to."

He added, "Based on the $35 daily rate to house an inmate, the county expects to save more than $200,000 and possibly up to $250,000 per year by having a holding cell at the prison. I expect municipalities to save tens of thousands of dollars in manpower, overtime and transportation costs."

Bridy said the holding cell also should serve as a deterrent for criminals because they know they will be going to the county prison - as opposed to being held at a local police station - if they commit a crime after regular business hours.

He said it's also a good tool for police officers because it will allow them to get back on the streets quicker and patrol their municipalities.

'Long process'

Magisterial District Judge Hugh Jones of Mount Carmel, who has pushed hard for the holding cell for about five years, said Friday he's glad it's finally being used.

"It was a long process to get it online, but I think everybody will be happy with it," he said.

Jones said the holding cell will definitely save the county and municipalities significant money.

He admitted it will make the jobs of the four magisterial district judges in the county easier because they won't be called out as often for arraignments during the late evening and early morning hours, but he called it a benefit to everyone.

"It's a better system because police will now be able to drop off prisoners at the prison instead of babysitting them at their respective stations until the arraignments are done," he said. "It will help the county, prison board and municipal budgets."

Jones said defendants charged with violating protection from abuse orders, criminal homicide and other serious offenses that require immediate attention will still be arraigned by the on-call magisterial district judge.

"We finally got all the planets aligned right with this project. I want to thank everyone involved, including the commissioners, prison board members, retired judge Robert B. Sacavage, current judges William H. Wiest and Charles Saylor, police, the prison administration, district attorney Tony Rosini and my fellow magisterial district judges," Jones said.

Jones particularly thanked Wiest for signing an order Feb. 25 approving the holding cell and praised the efforts of Magisterial District Judge John Gembic III of Shamokin and Sacavage who have been pushing the idea for many years.

Logistics

When a prisoner is brought to jail, the arresting officer must provide a copy of the criminal complaint to the judge, the defendant and prison officials.

Defendants detained after hours on Fridays will be arraigned by an on-call judge between 8 and 10 a.m. Sundays by video or in person.

If the district attorney can certify that the prosecution of the case would be impaired if the arraignment is delayed during the off-periods, it is the district attorney's obligation to contact the on-call judge to explain his concerns.

Approximately $50,000 allocated to the prison budget will not fund new positions, but will allow additional hours for part-time correctional officers to oversee the cell.