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Openings filled at Schuylkill prison

Published May 16. 2019 12:18PM

The pending hiring of four part-time corrections officers, and the promotion of a part-time corrections officer to lieutenant, will fill openings at the Schuylkill County Prison.

The Schuylkill County Prison board met Wednesday, and Sheriff Joseph Groody announced the pending hiring after the board emerged from a short executive session. Part-time officer Gary Keppel, who is retired from the Shenandoah Police Department, will be promoted to lieutenant.

Four part-time positions were vacant, including three existing vacancies and the position created by Keppel’s promotion from the part-time ranks. Offers of employment have been extended to Taylor Halady, Connor Laudenslaer, Cordell Lex and Tiffany Tirado.

The county prison continues to struggle with overcrowding, according to the census report submitted by Warden Eugene Berdanier. During April, the peak census number for all inmates was 264 with an average of 250; peak for females was 59 with an average of 53. The average number of outsourced inmates was 67 in April, but the current number outsourced is 83.

To ease overcrowding, the county has been outsourcing inmates to other county prisons in Berks, Centre, Columbia, Lackawanna and Northumberland counties at rates averaging $65 per day. In response to a question from Commissioner Gary Hess about forming a committee to discuss formation of a “step-down” facility, President Judge William E. Baldwin referred to an existing committee, the Forensic Task Force.

“We started discussing that (a step-down facility) six months ago,” Baldwin said. “There are many providers on the task force, and they are excited to be able to have input.”

The Forensic Task Force has 25 members, including county workers from probation and parole, drug and alcohol, and other departments, as well as representatives from providers who contract with the county to provide services.

In response to a question from Baldwin, Berdanier also stated that the District Attorney’s use of status conferences helps “spread out” the guilty pleas. At the status conference, the defendant, a defense attorney, a representative from the District Attorney’s office and a county judge are present. An offer may be tendered, and accepted, and a guilty plea entered at a status conference, instead of all guilty pleas or verdicts coming in during a criminal trial term.

Berdanier said the status conferences are a help in managing the prison population.

“We certainly appreciate it,” he said. “It does show improvement.”

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