Carbon County prison officials were split when it came to allowing work release-eligible inmates to go out and search for employment.

During the monthly meeting of the county prison board, Frank Shubeck, the prison work release/treatment director, provided the board with two changes to the current work release program at the correctional facility, located on the Broad Mountain in Nesquehoning. Those changes included giving inmates who have been put on work release and do not have a job, five four-hour furloughs to go out and search for employment; and domestic relations offenders, such as child support and other non-violent cases, would be sentenced by the courts to immediate work release.

Shubeck explained that the furloughs would allow the inmates to have the opportunity to find employment and also generate revenue for the county.

They would make a stop at CareerLink on their first furlough to see what jobs are available. After that, it is up to them to make up a game plan for finding a job. All out-of-prison time would be documented because inmates would be required to get a company's supervisor's signature on a form. Shubeck would then follow up to make sure the information was not forged.

Robert Crampsie, county controller, asked how the inmates would get to these places.

Shubeck said they would need to have their own transportation.

Crampsie then raised concerns about inmates going out on furloughs without supervision. He said that he wasn't thrilled with that idea.

Commissioner William O'Gurek agreed with Crampsie, saying that he has many concerns about inmates being able to go anywhere without the prison knowing beforehand.

Shubeck said that he understands the concerns and that there is always that chance that the inmate may not return or come back intoxicated or with contraband, but the program is suffering and something needs to be done.

He noted that if issues arise with the furloughs, the option will not be offered any longer.

Warden Joseph Gross said that it was his decision to start the furloughs as a way to initiate change in the program.

"We have 32 residents housed in the work release block," Gross said. "The majority of them don't have jobs out there in society. The only way they're going to get them is to let them out for those four-hour furloughs. If they don't get a job in those five furloughs, they get reclassified from work release back to the blocks and don't get any further opportunities.

"We need to generate money for the county and that's the only way we're going to get it."

He added that currently only one inmate out of the 32 in the work release block has opted for the furloughs. He was currently out searching for employment.

"The majority of those guys realized they don't want to work," Gross said. "They just want to be on work release because it's more open space for them. I'm not giving them that opportunity anymore. If you don't want to work, you go back in the blocks."

He said that if a person does not want to work, does not find employment within the five furloughs, turns down a job offer, or breaks any rules, they will immediately be taken off work release and reclassified and not be able to leave the facility until their sentence is complete.

Randall Smith, county administrator, asked if the same inmates who are on the inmate work program, which is currently in limbo due to lack of funding, would be going out on these furloughs.

Shubeck said that it would be the same type of inmates, meaning non-violent offenders who didn't pay their child support, DUIs, etc., who would be going out to search for jobs.

O'Gurek illustrated his concern, saying that the county stopped letting inmates work at the K-9 shelter unsupervised years ago because they couldn't be trusted, so he has major reservations about this program.

Shubeck agreed saying that there are no assurances but the inmates need these chances.

Gross said that they have to take chances or nothing will change. Currently, only one inmate who had employment when he arrived, is still working on work release. The other two that had been working violated the terms and were taken off the program.

He added that if something happens he will be fully responsible because he is the one running the prison.

Commissioners Charles Getz and Wayne Nothstein said they want to see the warden making the decisions on how the prison is operated because he knows the operations better than the board.

Nothstein then made a motion to accept the program. Getz seconded the motion.

A roll-call vote revealed a 3-1-1 vote, with O'Gurek casting the sole "no" vote and Crampsie abstaining from voting. District Attorney Gary Dobias, who is also a member of the board, was not at the meeting.

The motion was defeated for lack of a majority of the board. Four yes votes are needed.

Shubeck then asked what that meant for the furloughs because he had one scheduled for today.

The board discussed the matter and Gross explained that furloughs are granted through the warden.

In a related matter, the board also discussed the inmate work program.

Last month, the board discussed the possibility of charging a per day fee to anyone who utilizes inmates to complete a project. The program currently costs the county $24,473 to operate annually.

Shubeck reported that he sent letters to municipalities about paying $100 a day for inmate labor. So far two municipalities responded.

The board discussed what could be done to save the program because it was beneficial to the county and the inmates. The program was designed to take time off an inmate's sentence for work completed; therefore freeing up bed space quicker at the 172-bed facility.

In recent months, the county has realized that it can't continue to cover the full cost of the program.

The program was temporarily suspended, but officials yesterday said they did not want to end the program because it was beneficial to the municipalities who utilize it.

Getz said that there may be funding available through the hotel tax.

A committee was formed to try to find ways to finance the program. The members, who include Shubeck, O'Gurek, Getz and Crampsie, will meet over the next few weeks and bring their findings back to the board in March.