Pocopson Prison To Expand Work-release Center Approved

Posted: February 28, 1991

Come fall, Pocopson Township can expect its population to swell by 100 people, and residents can only hope they'll be model citizens.

After more than a year of deliberations, the Board of Supervisors on Monday night voted 2-1 to approve Chester County's plans for the construction of a 100-inmate work-release center on the prison grounds in Pocopson.

The board approved the land-development application with several conditions. Supervisors H. William Sellers and James Kiernan voted in favor of the application, while Bruce Yelton cast the opposing vote.

"I'm just glad we got to this point," Michael Mazza, county engineer, said after the meeting. Mazza attended the meeting with County Solicitor Thomas Whiteman, and both agreed to the conditions.

The work-release center would allow for male and female prisoners to leave daily to go to outside jobs, then return at night. The majority of prisoners eligible for work release would be people serving time for drunken-driving convictions or those near the end of jail terms for nonviolent crimes.

Mazza said the $2 million facility would house 25 females and 75 males.

The county has been battling township officials and residents over the proposed work-release center since plans for the project were revealed in fall 1989.

Township officials had voiced concern over traffic problems in that area, which they feel will worsen with the additional 400 trips that will be made in and out of the prison grounds each day as the inmates are dropped off. They had also questioned whether the prison's new sewage system could handle an additional 100 people.

But after months of deliberating over these concerns, the board felt

satisfied with approving the project as long as the county adheres to a number of conditions.

After an on-site meeting last week of the supervisors, county officials and

Pocopson Township engineer Robert F. Harsch, the county agreed to make improvements to the three-way intersection of Route 52, Wawaset and Lenape- Unionville Roads.

The township also asked that it be sent copies of sewage monitoring reports that the state's Department of Environmental Resources receives and that it be given the right to inspect the treatment facility.

The county also agreed to make a more detailed analysis of the amount of well water available on the prison grounds, and what effect, if any, the work- release center would have on wells of neighboring residents.

The board almost balked on voting on the application during Monday's meeting. But after a plea from Whiteman and after the two parties reviewed each condition again, the board seemed content.

"We've exhausted whatever we have to set forth before you," Whiteman told the board. "Specifically, we're trying to walk out of here with an approval."

Before the vote, Sellers cautioned Mazza and Whiteman that he was concerned with the possibility of further expansion at the site, and he asked that the county plan ahead for any future uses - elsewhere.

"Our long-range concern is that there might be a need for a juvenile facility," Sellers said. "Pocopson has, by and large, had a nice relationship with the county, and there are a lot of good things here, but there's a point where things can turn. It's now, 'How do we make a good relationship better and avoid a good relationship going sour?' "

The one stumbling block for the county could come with DER, which must approve the county's application to include the work-release center within its existing sewage-treatment system. Mazza, however, said he thought that DER's past concerns have been met and that approval should be forthcoming.

With that approval, Mazza said, the work-release center could be under construction by the spring and ready for use in the fall.

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