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Part-time corrections officer fired

Published December 12. 2019 12:37PM

During a meeting Wednesday, after a lengthy executive session, the Schuylkill County Prison Board fired part-time corrections officer Pamela Smith for “violations of regulations.” Schuylkill County Sheriff Joseph Groody made the motion to fire Smith, but Groody and other members of the board would not comment further. Smith was hired June 25, 2018.

Smith is the only part-time officer to be fired in 2019, but two full-time officers were fired earlier this year. Late in January, the prison board fired full-time officer Keith Wittig, who had been employed by the county prison for more than 20 years. In March, full-time officer Kyle Jones was fired; he’d been on the job for about a year and a half. On March 27, the county rescinded Jones’ termination and changed it to a resignation.

At full staff, the county prison has 45 full-time officers and 15 part-time officers. Currently, three full-time COs are “off duty” and one full-time CO is on “restricted duty status.” During the meeting the board voted to hire part-time CO Brandon Clark, leaving seven vacant positions for part-time COs.

Overcrowding continues to be a problem at the prison, with 87 inmates outsourced to other facilities during November. Schuylkill County inmates are currently being housed at county prisons in Centre, Columbia, Northumberland and Snyder counties. During the meeting, Commissioner Gary Hess pointed out that during November, the county spent $180,189 on the outsourcing. Employees of the Schuylkill County Sheriff’s Department transport the inmates.

“We’re going to spend $2 million in 2020 on outsourcing,” Hess said. “If STS is not the place, we need to move (on another solution).”

The county has discussed revamping the former STS terminal in the St. Clair Industrial Park into inmate housing, but that change — if possible — is a year or two away, prison board members said. President Judge William E. Baldwin, who chairs the prison board, said that in 2019, the number of drug cases filed in the county had “substantially” increased.

Although the new criminal case processing system initiated by Baldwin and District Attorney Mike O’Pake has hugely reduced the criminal case backlog, prison inmate numbers remain high.

“At the end of 2017, we had a backlog of 2,100 cases,” Baldwin said. “With the new system starting Nov. 1, 2018, the number of cases is now about 800.”

But although criminal cases are much more rapidly processed, recidivism continues to be a problem, Baldwin said. O’Pake said that offenders are being arrested with larger quantities of drugs. That translates to higher bail amounts being set, and offenders “can’t make bail and stay,” O’Pake said.

Warden Eugene Berdanier gave the population report for November. The peak census was 283 total; the peak female census was 69. The average population for November was 262, with 201 males and 61 females. The average number of outsourced inmates was 87. The current number of outsourced inmates is 93, with the majority (63) in Centre County.


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