Meadville Tribune

Local News

April 9, 2013

County jail report arrives –– but not released yet

MEADVILLE — A report on the recent independent review of Crawford County jail operations has arrived, but its contents haven’t been disclosed publicly yet.

Francis Schultz, Crawford County’s district attorney and chairman of the Crawford County Prison Board, confirmed Monday the report from the National Institute of Corrections was at the Crawford County Courthouse.

“It arrived today, but I’ve not had a chance to review it,” Schultz said.

Asked when the report would be made available to the public, “I don’t know what the next step is at this point,” Schultz said.

The Meadville Tribune Monday filed a right-to-know request with Crawford County for a copy of the report under Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law. Under the law, the county has five business days to respond to the request.

Schultz said he didn’t know if the NIC report would be discussed publicly prior to the prison board’s April 25 meeting or if the prison board would meet prior to April 25 to review the report.

The seven-member Crawford County Prison Board sets policy for county jail operations. The seats on the jail board, mandated by state law, are the three county commissioners, a county judge, district attorney, sheriff and county treasurer.

The National Institute of Corrections, an agency within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, has no official jurisdiction over county jails, so its investigators only make recommendations, not mandates.

On Jan. 24, the prison board voted to have an independent review of jail operations in response to a small group of critics which publicly had raised concerns about the jail’s operations following a handful of high-profile incidents over the past few years at the jail.

Meadville residents Sam Byrd Jr. and Connie Lee are among those who have advocated publicly for reform of Crawford County jail operations.

Both Byrd and Lee were among those interviewed by the two NIC representatives, James Hart, past president of the American Correctional Association, and Denny Macomber, chief of jail standards for the Nebraska Crime Commission, during their two-day visit March 18 and 19. Hart and Macomber also met with jail staff, inmates and members of the Crawford County Prison Board.

Byrd said it must be kept in mind that the NIC report on the Crawford County jail was not a full-fledged investigation.

“It’s a review — a review of records, not an investigation,” Byrd said Monday. “The (county) commissioners could bring in a full review or investigation. I’ve said for the longest time a full review is needed.”

Byrd declined to comment on what he thinks the NIC report may contain.

“I’ll reserve thoughts on that until I see the review,” Byrd said.

Byrd said he spoke with both NIC representatives for about a half-hour during his interview with them.

While Byrd said he’s reserving judgment until he reads the report itself, Lee expects the report to be critical of local jail operations.

“The report is going to be intensive and scathing in all its facets,” Lee said Monday. “They took a lot of notes and had concerns about the paperwork I showed them.”

Lee has had concerns with the county about the treatment of her husband, Robert E. Lee Jr., while he was an inmate in 2009, including a period of abrupt withdrawal from his medications.

“I think the report will be extensive and revealing,” Lee said Monday. “I’m hoping for a change in (jail) administration.”

The review is the first outside independent review of county operations since allegations of mistreatment were first raised several years ago by some members of the public.

The jail has had several high-profile incidents in the past few years.

One federal lawsuit has been filed against the county by the family of an inmate who died at the jail in 2008; another has been filed by a Springboro man who alleges his civil rights were violated when he was denied medications while he was a pretrial detainee at the jail in November 2008.

The jail also has seen deaths, including a Crawford County jail corrections officer who died of injuries sustained while on duty in 2010, and in May 2012 a rape suspect died at an Erie hospital following a suicide attempt at the jail.

As recently as Nov. 15, 2012, a former inmate alleged to county commissioners she was mistreated while an inmate at the jail, though no lawsuit has been filed.

In October 2009, Crawford County’s prison board, which included the previous board of commissioners, had an internal investigation of allegations of mistreatment at the jail and said those investigations determined that all allegations were unfounded.

The prison board also has pointed to the county jail’s record of five consecutive perfect scores following inspections by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. The latest state inspection was in the spring of 2012. Those inspections include review of records as well as interviews with inmates and staff members.

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

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