SUNBURY - In an effort to save costs and provide better security, Northumberland County Prison Board plans to fully implement a video conferencing program between the prison and court system next year.

During a meeting Wednesday morning at the county administration center, prison warden Roy Johnson said a room is available in the prison to accommodate a video conferencing system that would allow certain court proceedings to be conducted without having to remove inmates from the prison.

President Judge Robert B. Sacavage, who noted video conferencing is currently used by the county court and magisterial district judges, recommended an assessment be done at the prison in the near future to determine what updates need to be made to implement the video conferencing system. Some of the video equipment is already in place at the prison.

Commissioner Frank Sawicki, chairman of the prison board, said establishing video conferencing on a full-time basis at the prison would save money for the county.

District Attorney Tony Rosini agreed with Sawicki and said the county should seek grants to help pay for the video conferencing.

Newly appointed Commissioner Merle H. Phillips described video conferencing as a "great idea" and agreed to seek funding through various state sources he dealt with in his 30 years as a state legislator.

The warden also informed the board that plans are being made to restructure the way inmates enter the prison.

Johnson said he hopes to have inmates enter the facility through the basement and exit the building through the current main entrance on the first floor. "Having a separate entrance and exit for the inmates would eliminate congestion in the lobby area, particularly during shift changes, and generally make it easier and more secure for everyone," Johnson said.

Prison board members agreed with a recommendation by Rosini to further explore the feasibility of establishing a countywide booking center at the prison. Johnson said, "That's a viable option, but it will come down to dollars and cents."

In other business, Dondalynn Snyder, a registered nurse and health services administrator at the prison, reported 32 inmates have been evaluated at the prison's dental suite that became operational Nov. 22.

County Chief Adult Probation Officer Dave Wondoloski said 50 inmates participated in the house arrest program last month, which saved the county 1,247 inmate days and $49,880.

Johnson reported the current inmate population is 175, including 153 males and 22 females. The prison is housing three inmates from other counties. He said the highest population of 211 was reached Oct. 18, while the lowest population of 190 occurred Oct. 8.