SAEGERTOWN — Crawford County jail officials are thrilled to be below average in one category — the number of “extraordinary occurrences” at the jail.

By law, the warden must report within 48 hours to the state incidents such things as murder, suicide, escapes and outbreaks of infectious diseases or other happenings which may be dangerous to the inmate, fellow inmates or staff.

Across the state, jails report an average of two such occurrences a month.

For the first 111/2 months of 2005, Crawford County has had only five such occurrences.

The report shows the first incident involved a inmate kicking and banging in his cell with the potential of harming himself and disobeying direct orders.

The second was an inmate who was being committed to the jail who was uncooperative and fighting the staff.

Third was a fight between two inmates, which warranted force to be used to break it up. Inmates also disobeyed direct orders from the staff.

Fourth was an inmate being non-compliant and combative with staff, fighting and kicking staff members.

The last was an inmate threatening bodily harm to himself and staff.

“We’ve had no suicides and no escapes,” said Crawford County jail Warden Tim Lewis.

Lewis said when inmates act up, there is a response. First of all, they are written up for misconduct and take their case to a hearing board. Discipline involves restricting them to their cell. They could get as much as five days with only two hours a day outside of their cell.

If the inmate doesn’t agree with the hearing board’s decision, he (or she) can appeal the ruling to Lewis. Lewis said if he agrees with the inmate, the person gets another hearing — before a different board. He has made that ruling several times, he added.

Another tool the prison uses is “the chair,” referring to a strapping an inmate into a seat. “We use it quite often,” he said, — but not necessarily for extraordinary occurrences.

“One of my main concerns is the safety of the inmate and make sure he is not going to hurt himself,” Lewis said, explaining the chair prevents inmates from hurting themselves.

For example, he said, one main had sutures on his stomach and was distressed and deliberately gouging his stomach. “He kept it up so much, the sutures came out,” Lewis said.

After taking the man to the hospital to have the sutures resewn, the chair was used to restrain the man to ensure he didn’t hurt himself.

The staff can’t automatically put a person in the chair without calling and receiving permission from a physician.

When an inmate is in the chair, every 30 minutes the staff must check the person’s vitals to ensure the straps aren’t too tight.

Lewis said the average stay in the chair is from one-half hour to three hours. The longest was the man gouging his stomach, who was in the chair for eight hours before promising to stop.

Other provisions made at the jail to prevent possible suicides include what is called “suicide blankets” and “suicide uniforms.” Lewis said anyone who indicates he (or she) may be contemplating suicide or threatens to do so is given the blanket and the special uniform.

They differ from regular blankets and uniforms as they are thicker and can’t be torn easily to form a rope. In addition, hooks in the cells are “breakaway” hooks, meaning if anything heavier than a towel is hung on them, the hooks break away, causing the item to fall to the floor.

“My main concern is for the safety of the inmates and the staff,” Lewis said.



Jane Smith can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at jsmith@meadvilletribune.com

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