Overcrowding and too few corrections officers at the Carbon County Correctional Facility are two major problems officials say.
During the monthly meeting of the county prison board on Wednesday, Warden Joseph Gross explained that the inmate population is continuing to grow, causing overcrowding; and there are not enough corrections officers to cover all the blocks 24 hours a day, so overtime is at its highest.
He said that the medium 2 block, which was designed to hold 13 inmates, currently houses 21 inmates; while the restrictive housing unit, which is designed to hold 15 inmates is maxed out at 15, 10 of which are not RHU inmates.
Gross added that the gym conversion project, which is now another indoor housing unit, has been finished and can hold 30 inmates, but cannot be filled yet because he does not have enough staff to man the block.
"If I had available personnel to man the gym three shifts," Gross said, "I could move the medium 2 block and others to the gym. I could house 30 men in there but that's not going to happen until I can get personnel."
He pointed out that the current inmate population is 198. Of that total, 23 inmates are either weekenders, who come in to serve their sentence only on weekends; are in rehab or are being housed temporarily at another prison.
"If they all would come back at one time then we'll have a problem," he said, noting that Carbon is not the only prison having problems with overcrowding. Luzerne County is closing a floor at its prison because it is out of funds.
"It's not just us, overcrowding is going around every place.
"We need to do something," Gross added. "Just expanding and turning the gym into an indoor living facility is not going to alleviate anything because my female population is now spiking too."
Commissioner Wayne Nothstein said that the county needs to figure out something because the future outlook does not look any better.
"I think we have to come up with a game plan because it's not getting any better," he said.
Gross said that he and Deputy Warden Tim Fritz investigated the possibility of renting or purchasing a temporary housing unit that would be brought in and placed on the grounds. The price to purchase the unit is $3,522,000, which is more than the county can afford to spend on expansion at this time.
The board will continue to look at options that could possibly help alleviate some of the issue, but no solid solutions were discussed at this time.
In other matters, the prison will now charge incoming inmates a $25 booking processing fee beginning Aug. 1.
Gross approached the board with the option to start charging this fee, which is a one-time fee, as a way to generate funds to help cover operational costs at the prison. Currently, the county charges $20 a day for room and board, but not for booking fees.
Fritz explained that the fee could be between $10 and $30.
He added that last year, Carbon County booked 999 inmates.
Gross explained that the fee would be taken directly out of the inmate's account and not charged at a later time, like the room and board.
"If inmates get funds from their loved ones at the kiosk, until that fee is satisfied, we would be taking the funds from them," he said, adding that the only inmates who would not be charged immediately would be the indigent inmates.
Nothstein said that he feels a $10 fee would not be high enough and made the motion to set the fee at $25.
The motion passed unanimously.