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Schuylkill prison benefiting from new protocol

Published March 14. 2019 12:53PM

During the Schuylkill County Prison Board meeting Wednesday, President Judge William E. Baldwin said that since Nov. 1, more than 1,200 cases have been cleared in Schuylkill County Court.

Baldwin, who presides over the board, attributed the processing of the cases to a new system initiated through District Attorney Mike O’Pake’s office and the county’s judges.

“We’re only had one term of court (since Nov. 1), and the emphasis is to move people through as quickly as we can,” Baldwin said. “(Before the new system) Defendants could be charged and be here a year if they can’t make bail.

“Cut by three, four or five months,” he added. “So far, that’s making a big difference.”

Beginning Nov. 1, 2018, defendants were organized, according to the district magistrate where they were charged. The cases for each district magistrate were assigned to one of the county’s six judges, with an exception where one judge is assigned to two district magistrates (the county has seven magistrates).

Defendants must attend a “status conference” where facts of the case are discussed, with a judge, attorneys and the defendant present.

An offer may be made through the DA, and defendants may offer a guilty plea at the conference.

Before the new system launched, the standard order of business was to hold pretrial conferences before each of the county’s five criminal terms. Usually, about 1,200 cases were attached for pretrial and the actual list for trial would be about 100.

Although pleased with the numbers, Baldwin was cautiously optimistic. He said that since Nov. 1, he’s been compiling facts and statistics, and said he would share those finding after the criminal term in April.

Schuylkill County continues to struggle to maintain its inmate population. After the state Department of Corrections mandated in 2015 that the county reduce overcrowding, the county began to outsource inmates to other county facilities at an average rate of $65 per day.

Prison Warden Eugene Berdanier shared the numbers during the meeting Wednesday. During February, the average number of inmates at the Schuylkill County Prison was 235, with an average 68 outsourced, for a total of 303.

In January, the average number of inmates in house was 221 and an average 67 outsourced, for a total of 288.

As of March 13, the total number of inmates stood at 213, but currently 75 inmates are outsourced, meaning the total population, in and out of county, is 288.

Monthly report

Currently there are two correctional officers and the off-duty captain are on extended medical leave, and two correctional officers are on restricted duty status. There is one full-time vacancy and five part-time vacancies, although three people have recently been offered part-time positions.

During February, eight inmates participated in the Work Release Program, and six participated in the Vocational Rehabilitation Program. The Vocational Rehabilitation Program completed 18 jobs, including 15 community service jobs and three jobs for senior citizens.

During February, eight offenders were placed on pre-release status, bringing the total to 28 offenders on pre-release status.

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