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Board warned 'time running out' to address overcrowding problem

Published August 16. 2012 05:02PM

"Time is running out and something must be done real soon," was the warning and plea made by President Judge William E. Baldwin to members of the Schuylkill County Prison board, concerning the overcrowding in the county prison located in Pottsville across the street from the courthouse.

Baldwin, who is chairman of the prison board, addressed the board at its monthly meeting at the courthouse. He warned that the state could decertify the county prison which would mean no prisoners, except those sentenced to state prison sentences, who receive sentences of six months or more could be housed in the county prison, and the county would be forced to make arrangements with other counties to house the prisoners or find other means.

"We can't let everyone out on the street; we must do something and do it now," Baldwin commented.

He pointed out the county has been faced with a growing problem of inmates placed on probation with an exceptional number who have violated their probation, and the judges had to return them to prison to serve out their sentences. The prison was built to house a maximum of 200 inmates.

The county has received a proposal for construction of a building in the recreation area within the confines of the prison which could house up to 60 inmates and relieve the overcrowding. However, the board has not received information concerning what the cost would will be.

Baldwin believes it still would be cheaper then renting out prisoners. He said the county judges have used up all option programs such as house arrests.

Commissioner Frank Staudenmeier, who had previously opposed construction of a new prison in the area of the correctional center in Ryan Township, which was abandoned when bids to construct it were higher than the county budgeted, has now agreed that some type of housing unit is needed to alleviate the overcrowding. The commissioners are responsible for the funding.

Warden Eugene Berdanier, in his monthly report to the board, said in July the peak census was 302 male inmates and the peak female census was 53 inmates. As of Wednesday the population consists of 241 males and 47 females but the county judges were processing around 100 guilty pleas yesterday.

The warden's report on the physical condition of the old prison showed many problems. The most serious are drainage blockages in the medical holding cells where maintenance workers, when opening the sewer drains, found personal items thrown into the toilets.

Berdanier told the board he has contacted state officials and also the maintenance supervisor at the Ryan Township state prison to find out how they deal with the problem.

Berdanier reported the total cost of operating the prison in July was $407,620.72, which is the highest monthly total to date.

The main expenses were salaries, $219,375.83; overtime, $17,592.79; materials and supplies, $24,741.07; groceries, $40,807.10; and cost of providing medical care, $64,271.87.

There are three officers undergoing basic training at Berks County prison and that he and Captain Flannery attended a training class for the county inspection training process to prepare for its annual inspection.

PrimeCare Medical Inc., of Harrisburg, under contract to provide medical and health care, reported in July that 264 inmates were on sick call, 203 seen by a psychologist, 52 had visits to dentists, and 18 were on suicide watch with no incidents reported.

Joseph H. Huth, work release coordinator, reported 21 inmates were housed in the work release center and 14 participated in the Vocational Rehabilitation Program and completed 22 jobs with five days devoted to providing services for senior citizens and eight jobs for the county.

Members of the board present were Baldwin, District Attorney Karen Byrnes Noon, Sheriff Joseph G. Groody, Commissioners Staudenmeier, George Halcovage and Gary Hess, and Controller Cristie Joy.

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