Carbon County Correctional Facility inmates who deliberately break toilet fixtures and other prison property should face criminal charges, county Commissioner Wayne Nothstein said at a prison board meeting Wednesday.
Nothstein's suggestion was prompted by maintenance director Charles Neff's report of inmates in the medical area of the prison clogging a toilet early Monday morning by stuffing it with a blanket, causing an overflow mess.
"It's costing us money. If we can narrow it down (to who did it), they should definitely be charged," Nothstein said.
His prison board colleagues agreed. County controller Bob Crampsie said charges would "send a message to the inmates" that "we are not just going to allow these things to happen."
Prison authorities have yet to determine exactly who is responsible for the vandalism. Two of the inmates housed in the area at the time were on suicide watch, and the two others were on medical watch, Neff said. Correctional officers were unable to determine which cell was missing a blanket.
Nothstein questioned that, saying "they're in a cell, they should have an inventory of how many blankets they got when they went in there, and how many when they went out."
Designated Warden Joseph Gross, who starts his job Sept. 7, said he would talk to the sergeant on duty that day to glean more information on the incident. County District Attorney Gary Dobias said the inmates on the medical block should all be interviewed, too.
Crampsie asked if the inmates on suicide watch have blankets. It turns out those inmates have smocks, not blankets.
Work release director Frank Shubeck asked if the toilets in the medical section have pins designed to prevent the flushing of clothing and blankets. Neff said they do, but the pins can be bypassed by repeatedly flushing as the blanket is slowly being put down the toilet. Gross asked if no one "noticed that the commodes were being continually flushed?"
Board members also discussed with Neff the details of a broken wall-mounted toilet in the medium security block.
Neff said the porcelain breaks easily, and it would be difficult to prove it was deliberately broken.
"The inmate probably stepped on it to climb up on the bunk, but, can you prove it?" he said. The toilet could have been loosened by inmates who previously occupied the cell, he said.
The fixture has since been replaced.
Acting Warden Tim Fritz observed that porcelain commodes, which are only in certain parts of the prison, "were a bad idea." They were installed when the facility was built in 1995.
Most of the toilets in the inmate areas are stainless steel, which Neff said cost about $1,000 each; the combination sink/toilet can run $3,500 each. Porcelain toilets cost about $300 each.
Gross said correctional officers need to take an inventory of each cell to make sure all the equipment is functioning properly before a new inmate is housed there. They should "check the commodes, the sinks. If they are loose, you don't put anybody in there," he said.
In other matters, the board agreed to apply to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to again house illegal immigrants, and to seek letters of support from elected officials to be added to ICE's list of approved facilities. The applications are due in October. Fritz said he spoke with ICE representatives a few weeks ago. He said they are "apparently not interested in adding new facilities. They feel they have enough for right now." However, ICE told him that if the county is interested in housing illegal immigrants, it can apply to be added to the list in October. Fritz said that by then, perhaps some facilities will have dropped out of the program.
"There is no downside to applying," Dobias said. Gross said that if the program "is an asset to the correctional facility and can bring dollars in to us, and if the commissioners have no problem with it, I would have no problem with it."
But it's not so much about making money as easing the burden on short-staffed local police departments, said Commissioners Chairman William O'Gurek.
He said that transporting illegal immigrants to the closest holding facility, in Scranton, "has created a hardship for our local police." O'Gurek said the county has asked to be able to take illegals "just on an interim basis, for a two-to-three day period, until ICE could come and pick them up, so that our cops wouldn't have to be tied up for three hours on the road going up to Scranton and back."
At one time, Crampsie said, the county had a contract with ICE's predecessor, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to house the immigrants. Under an ICE contract, the immigrants' stays at the prison would be shorter.