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Prison lock down

  • AMY MILLER/TIMES NEWS The booking area of the Carbon County Correctional Facility was one of many areas searched Wednesday by state Department of Corrections officers during the official prison shakedown.
    AMY MILLER/TIMES NEWS The booking area of the Carbon County Correctional Facility was one of many areas searched Wednesday by state Department of Corrections officers during the official prison shakedown.
Published January 24. 2013 05:05PM

It looked like a scene out of a movie Wednesday morning as more than 100 state Department of Corrections officers and canines converged on the Carbon County Correctional Facility in Nesquehoning.

The prison went on official lock down at 7:40 a.m., after 102 state corrections officers, eight K-9 units and five senior administration staff entered the facility. The reason for the lock down was to do an official shakedown to make sure there was no contraband or anything that was not allowed within the prison walls.

Carbon County Warden Joseph Gross, who coordinated the shakedown with the state last month, explained that the officers involved are specifically trained to do the shakedowns.

"These are teams that go around the state on a regular basis," Gross said. "They were so efficient."

He added that he felt it was necessary after the prison's state inspection, which came up short in new inspection standards.

"They usually do this when they change administrations," Gross said he was told by the state inspectors last November. "Usually the state contacts the incoming warden to have an overall search done. It didn't happen when I was brought on board. But as the state inspector said, it's good to make sure there is nothing in here. This way nothing is open to liability or problems later on."

He explained that after that discussion, he began to get the ball rolling on making sure the facility was secure.

He contacted John Wetzel, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, who was more than happy to assist in the planning of the shakedown.

But it wasn't until four days ago that Gross found out Wednesday was the scheduled date for the event.

"They turned the place upside down," Gross explained. "They were looking for any type of contraband, anything that shouldn't be in the residents' cells. They went the extra mile."

He noted that in addition to contraband, the state officers partnered with county corrections officers to make sure inmates didn't have more than what they were issued when they began their sentences.

"They did a bang up job getting rid of everything that shouldn't be there (in the cells)," Gross said, noting that in addition to finding additional clothing items, the officers removed approximately 40 extra mattresses that were doubled up on inmates' beds.

Gross was happy to report that the state found "little to no contraband" in the facility. A few makeshift shanks were discovered in commons areas, so no action could be taken against any inmates.

There were two incidents with inmates that occurred during the shakedown.

Gross said that one inmate got "out of control" with the state officers, who are trained as security five officers.

"They were able to take the inmate down to the ground with minimal to no problem," he said, adding that they then leg shackled and handcuffed him and carried him to the Restrictive Housing Unit, where county staff wrote him up. The inmate now faces a disciplinary hearing next week.

The second incident included metal being found in an inmate's shoe.

Gross said the inmate said the metal was part of the shoe but an investigation to determine if it is true is still being conducted.

In addition to the cell blocks and county corrections officers areas being searched, Gross also opened up his office to the state.

"When Captain Goodman came in and said this is what we're going to do, I opened up every part of the facility, including my office," he said. "I didn't want to subject my officers to what happened here the searching of their lockers and their commons areas and leave my area out. That way I keep everyone honest and keep everybody up on the top of the board."

Gross said that the state will now generate a report on the search and the incidents that occurred; which will be documented with the state inspectors when they meet with the county prison board in February.

Four state corrections officers will also be back in four to six weeks to help the county's maintenance department "tidy things up and throw things out that aren't needed."

Gross said that overall he was happy with the shakedown and commended the officers who came in, adding that he hopes to do this once a year if the state is willing to come in.

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