By Rick Hiduk
(Exclusive to EndlessMtnLifestyles.com readers)
While there was good news to report during the monthly meeting of the Wyoming County Prison Board, the recent departure of four corrections officers was addressed as an immediate concern. Three individuals have left for other jobs, and one went to college. Warden Ken Repsher, who participated by phone, cited the quality of the remaining staff for keeping things running smoothly but conceded that the positions must be filled.
“We are almost at the point of being in a critical situation,” commissioner chair Rick Wilbur said of the employees being stretched so thin. He added that the positions will be advertised in local papers, as well as being posted on the county’s website – www.wycopa.org. In the regular commissioners meeting that followed the meeting of the prison board, the commissioners approved the hiring of Ted Nafus as a new part time corrections officer.
There are currently 41 men and ten women at the prison in Tunkhannock, Repsher noted. “There is no one boarded out for the first time in a long time,” he reported, in reference to years of overcrowding that led to housing inmates in other facilities at great cost to the county. The $13,365 paid to other institutions this year pales in comparison to 2016, when the county was using Act 13 funds to cover an estimated $75,000 per month outsourcing tab.
COVID-19 remains an ongoing concern as the number of cases in Pennsylvania and locally have been increasing slowly. But commissioner Tom Henry was happy to report that there has not yet been a positive case at the Wyoming County jail. “There have been issues in other counties, like Bradford, so we are very grateful,” he stated.
As there seems to be no end in sight yet to the coronavirus pandemic, the board unanimously agreed to keep current “no visiting” policies in place, with which Repsher concurred. He has been closely monitoring Pennsylvania Department of Corrections guidelines for dealing with the health crisis. “When the DOC feels we’re clear, then I’ll feel we’re clear,” he offered.
Board members, including public defender Timothy Michaels, who also took part in the meeting via call-in, agreed that the basic communication needs of the prisoners are being met via the installation of skyping equipment that allows them virtual face time with lawyers, counselors and clergy as needed.
“There are better relationships between the clients and their attorneys because they can see them,” Michaels related.
According to president judge Russell Shurtleff, drug and alcohol assessments are being done by phone. Commissioner Ernie King mentioned at a meeting of the Wyoming County Ministerium on July 7 that prisoners continue to get extra time on the phone at no additional cost to them in lieu of loved ones being able to visit them at the facility.