Meadville Tribune

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March 6, 2013

Jail review to take place later this month

MEADVILLE — March 18 and 19 are when two representatives of the National Institute of Corrections are expected to review operations at the Crawford County Correctional Facility, according to Francis Weiderspahn Jr., chairman of county commissioners.

“They’ll take time to be there for at least part of all three shifts and review (operations on) those two days,” said Weiderspahn, who has served as the county’s liaison on the pending prison review. Weiderspahn made the announcement at Tuesday’s weekly work session for county commissioners.

The two representatives, James Hart, past president of the American Correctional Association, and Denny Macomber, chief of jail standards for the Nebraska Crime Commission, are Crawford County’s two top picks out of five potential inspectors from the National Institute of Corrections.

The pair will meet with the Crawford County Prison Board in an exit interview following the review of jail operations, Weiderspahn said. A full report with recommendations will be issued within a few weeks following the review, he said.

The review is in response to a small group of critics which publicly has raised concerns about the jail’s operations following a handful of high-profile incidents over the past few years at the jail in Saegertown.

In January, the Crawford County Prison Board agreed to have the National Institute of Corrections review jail operations at no cost to the county. The National Institute of Corrections is an agency within the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The agency has no official jurisdiction over county jails, so its investigators only make recommendations, not mandates.

All three county commissioners — Weiderspahn, Jack Lynch and C. Sherman Allen — have voiced support for an independent review. The trio also serve on the seven-member 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.

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

A federal lawsuit has been filed against the county by the family of an inmate who died at the jail in 2008; and a corrections officer died of injuries sustained while on duty in 2010. As recently as Nov. 15, 2012, a former inmate alleged to 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 jail board also has noted the county jail has had 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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