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Published March 22. 2012 05:01PM

Carbon County's prison is again experiencing overcrowding.

During the county prison board meeting on Wednesday, Warden Joseph Gross explained his plan to convert the indoor gymnasium into another housing block for inmates. The board voted unanimously to allow the conversion to take place.

He said that the reason for conversion is because the inmate population is hovering between 186, which it was on Wednesday; and 197, which was February's average daily population.

"As our population increases we have to do something," Gross said.

He asked Charles Neff, maintenance supervisor at the prison, to outline the costs for converting part of the bathroom in the gymnasium into a shower stall.

Neff said that it would cost $1,000 for parts and the maintenance department and inmates would complete the work.

Gross said that the conversion will probably be needed in the next several weeks for housing.

So far, the prison secured cots and bedding for the conversion.

"If you give me the go ahead, I will spend the money and convert the bathroom and move inmates there," he told the board. "It's probably going to be upwards of 10 or more inmates."

Gross added that his long-term idea is to move the work release block into the gymnasium because those inmates require "low security housing."

"Why I want to put work release there is because they're pretty self sufficient," he said. "They're supposedly our trustees. They are our in-house workers."

He noted that if it is needed, he will move the office of Frank Shubeck, work release director, to the new block, but not at this time.

Commissioner Wayne Nothstein asked if the inmate population increases are a long-term issue.

Gross said that "We seem to be getting more and more so this will probably be long term."

Other options to try and alleviate overcrowding that are in the works include probation adding inmates to the IPP program.

"I don't know if that will help much," Gross noted.

He added that he knows the county doesn't currently want to build an addition to the prison, but eventually it will be necessary if the growing trend continues.

Gross also voiced some concerns he has about the number of corrections officers the county currently employs full-time.

He told the board that according to Title 37, prisons are required to employ 33 corrections officers that for every 168 inmates.

"Today, with over 168 inmates, we are a little below that average by about two or three officers," Gross said. "As the population increases, we're going to have to increase our staff, especially if we go ahead with moving Work Release down to the gym."

Robert Crampsie, chairman of the prison board, asked if they could look at what shifts are requiring the most overtime hours and possibly hire a full-time officer to man that shift, cutting down on overtime hours.

The Carbon County Correctional Facility, which is located on the Broad Mountain in Nesquehoning, has experienced overcrowding issues for years.

Since 2005, the prison board has looked at ways to increase the number of inmates it could house, from considering the option of used modular prison blocks; to getting a quote on how much it would cost to build an addition, which could be up to $9 million.

In 2009, when the inmate population hovered around 160, the gymnasium was used as temporary housing for medium block inmates.

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