The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania launched the Jail Overcrowding Best Practices Award four years ago. Since then, Lycoming County won the award three times and was runner-up for it once.
The county recently garnered its third top honor during a formal presentation in State College.
The award was designed to promote best management practices that alleviate overcrowding in county jails and create solutions to building costly new jails, said Scott Martin, a Lancaster County commissioner and chairman of CCAP's Committee on County Criminal Justice System Best Practices for the 21st Century.
"We salute the efforts of Lycoming County in being innovative pioneers in meeting the challenges that all county jails are facing as costs increase and inmate populations swell," Martin said. "We hope other counties follow these examples and bring these solutions, or others, to their counties."
The county's success at keeping the prison population down is the result of a team effort requiring the cooperation of the county's entire criminal justice system, said Kevin DeParlos, county Prison warden.
The support of the county Prison Board, the commissioners, judicial system and Criminal Justice Advisory Board also has been a major component in the program's success, DeParlos said.
The county uses a wide range of programs that serve as an alternative to prison sentences, DeParlos said.
The programs include the Pre-Release Center's work release and work crew programs, community service, specialized supervision for mentally-challenged and mentally-ill offenders, specialty courts such as drug court, DUI court and mental health court, supervised bail programs, global positioning and alcohol monitoring, he said.
"The hallmark and key to our system in Lycoming County is the excellent communication between all components of the criminal justice system," DeParlos said, adding that the county will continue to be successful as long as that "spirit of communication remains."
The county will try to maintain programs that ease prison overcrowding even as state funds for those programs are reduced, he said.
County Commissioner Jeff C. Wheeland, who is chairman of the county Prison Board, said the award proves the county prison "is the best prison in Pennsylvania."
Wheeland praised Deparlos and deputy wardens Brad Shoemaker and Timothy Mahoney, and the staff of the Prison and Pre-Release Center.
"(They) are a seasoned, insightful, caring and responsible prison team who effectively blend a thorough knowledge of prison policies, procedures and disciplinary regulations," Wheeland said.
According to Martin, the association, in response to concerns about rising county inmate populations throughout the state, launched a survey, which was conducted by Dr. Alan Harland, of Temple University.
The survey polled prisons throughout the state to find out the scope of the overcrowding problem.
According to DeParlos, the award for small prisons is for counties of the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth class, of which there are more than 40. Class designations are based on population, he said.
Williamsport is a fifth class county, which is a designation given to counties with populations of between 90,000 and 144,999. An eighth class county, by comparison, maintains a population of 20,000 or less.
Not all counties have prisons, but most of them do, DeParlos said. Of the 67 counties in the state, all but four have prisons, he said.