CRESSON - Cambria County expects to open a central booking center at the county prison in Ebensburg in a month.
Blair County opened a similar facility at its prison in Hollidaysburg last August.
A central booking center will allow police officers to drop off criminal suspects for processing and get back on the streets faster, Cambria commissioners and corrections officials said Thursday.
Implementation of the first phase of the central booking center is expected to be in place by April 29, John Prebish, Cambria County Prison warden, said.
Only magisterial district courts and law enforcement agencies in the northern part of Cambria County, mostly those north of Route 22, will utilize the central booking center when it opens in April, Prebish said.
"There's still some unknowns with it," Prebish said.
Officials have not determined the exact location in the prison where suspects would be dropped off and processed, Prebish said.
After an initial trial run, police and courts in the southern half of the county will be added in early June, Prebish said.
The new system will allow officers to transport suspects to the jail, complete affidavits of probable cause and return to their shift while the suspects await arraignment, Prebish said.
Suspects will be digitally fingerprinted and arraigned by an on-call magistrate at either 10 p.m. or 8 a.m. the following day, Prebish said. The program will match a suspect's prints against state and national databases as well as the International Criminal Police Organization.
During their meeting Thursday evening at Penn Cambria High School, commissioners approved hiring a full-time lieutenant with the prison to oversee the booking center.
In addition, Prebish said officials are expecting about two to three corrections officers will be transferred from the prison to help run the booking center.
The facility is a win-win for law enforcement, corrections and the courts, officials said.
A $200 booking fee for any second-degree misdemeanors or higher criminal offenses will help pay the costs of the center, Prebish said.
"It will fund itself," Prebish said. "There's no burden to the county."
Not all individuals will be processed through central booking. Summary offenses and court-ordered summons for fingerprinting will not likely be transported to the prison, officials said.
Anyone acquitted of criminal charges will be refunded the $200 booking fee, Prebish said.
President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder said the program is a great initiative.
Some municipalities including Westmont Borough and Richland Township have already joined efforts and plan to combine their trips to the prison, Lengenfelder said.
The convenience of a central booking center and efficiency of the digital fingerprinting programs will help law enforcement officials get back to work faster, Prebish said.