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Schuylkill prison costs for overflow inmates higher than last year

Published October 18. 2018 01:45PM

The price tag to house Schuylkill County prison inmates in other counties to alleviate overcrowding has tipped over the $1 million mark.

Warden Eugene Berdanier at a prison board meeting Wednesday said the cost to date comes to $1,077,998, with an additional $24,912 not yet posted.

With two more months to go, the bill seems on track to outpace last year’s $1.3 million cost.

The county budgeted $1.4 million to cover the expense this year, said county Commissioners’ Chairman George F. Halcovage Jr.

The money comes out of the tax-fueled general fund, and does not include transportation or overtime costs.

In May 2016, the state Department of Corrections ordered the county to stop accepting new inmates until it got the population below a 277-inmate cap to avoid triple-celling.

To comply, Schuylkill began housing overflow inmates at other jails — at a cost of about $65-$70 per inmate per day.

The DOC lifted the restriction three months later, after the county kept the numbers down.

But as the number of defendants grows, mostly due to the opioid epidemic, the cost is increasingly hard to bear.

As of Wednesday, a total of 84 inmates were housed in other counties of at least $5,460 a day.

Three were in Berks County, 56 in Centre County, nine in Columbia County, 12 in Lackawanna County, and four in Snyder County.

Halcovage raised the question of inmates brought from state prison for hearings and other court matters, and who are housed in the county jail.

Juries are being selected this week, and that requires defendants to be present, boosting the population held in the county jail by the influx of those facing state prison terms.

Many of them are being housed at the state prison in Mahanoy Township, and brought to the county prison for jury selections.

Later this year, said prison board Chairman and President Judge William E. Baldwin, the courts will change how this is done to make the process flow faster, resulting in less time state-bound defendants are in the county jail.

“The state prisoners are going to be brought in one time a term. It’s going to be before jury selection,” he said.

“It seems like well over 90 percent of the state prison cases, the defendant enters a guilty plea, so the day they’re brought in, if they want to plead guilty, we’re going to take their plea right away, and then they’ll be free to go back,” Baldwin said.

If a trial is scheduled, it will be held the following week in order to move the defendant’s case along quickly.

Baldwin said notice will be given to the DOC of the plan so transportation can be handled more efficiently.

In other matters, the board asked Berdanier to step up the process of having a screen built within the outer prison walls to shield police officers from the taunts, spitting, and view of inmates as they deliver people to the jail. Officials are especially concerned that undercover agents may be spotted by inmates who would reveal their identities.

The screen was authorized several months ago.

“The police are really upset about it,” Baldwin said about the delay.

Sheriff Joseph G. Groody moved to have the project done quickly, but his motion was not acted upon as it is already being done.

Berdanier said three contractors have come to assess the project, which would cost less than $20,000.

“We want to have it done this year,” Baldwin said. “We can’t get into bad weather and have it delayed.”

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