Meadville Tribune

Local News

November 16, 2012

After new inmate complaint, county may look into jail review

MEADVILLE — After another complaint about alleged abuse while an inmate at the Crawford County jail, county commissioners said they’re willing to call for an outside, independent review of jail operations.  

“I don’t think that would be totally out of line to do,” Francis Weiderspahn Jr., chairman of county commissioners, said following Thursday’s commissioners meeting. “If the three of us can get together and possibly take it to the prison board — that would be the way to go.”

At Thursday’s commissioner meeting, Kathern J. White, 34, of Meadville, outlined alleged abuse she claimed she sustained while in the county jail in Saegertown earlier this fall.

White claims she didn’t receive proper medical care while she was jailed 42 days in connection with missing a court appearance date.

White alleged she suffered seizures while in jail and that guards laughed at her when they videoed her having a seizure. White claims while there were female guards in her cell during one seizure she had, there also were two male guards in the cell when her jail clothing was partially off.

A bench warrant had been issued for White for failing to appear for sentencing in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas on a charge of welfare fraud, according to county court records.

White pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony charge of welfare fraud for obtaining $8,942 worth of food stamps for intentionally failing to report all income received by her husband David White Jr., from July 1, 2009, until Jan. 31, 2011, according to court records.

She was sentenced Oct. 23 in county court by Judge Anthony Vardaro to 40 days to 24 months less one day with credit for time served and paroled; serve a total of five years probation; and pay $8,942 restitution, according to court records.

While they don’t constitute a majority of the prison board, Weiderspahn and fellow commissioners Jack Lynch and C. Sherman Allen all said they would be willing to call for an independent investigation of county jail operations at the Dec. 13 meeting of the Crawford County Prison Board.

All three commissioners serve on the Crawford County Prison Board which sets policy for county jail operations. Other seats on the jail board, mandated by state law, are a county judge, district attorney, sheriff and county treasurer.

In October 2009, the Crawford County Prison Board, which included the previous board of commissioners, said it had ordered internal investigations of allegations of mistreatment at the Crawford County jail and that those investigations determined all allegations were unfounded.

The county prison board has pointed to its exemplary inspection record with Pennsylvania — including five consecutive perfect scores following inspections by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. The inspections include review of records and interviews with both inmates and staff members.

However, the county jail has had the death of a corrections officer in 2010; and a federal lawsuit filed against the county by the family of an inmate who died at the jail in 2008.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

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