Present at a meeting of the Wyoming County Prison Board on Aug. 20 were (clockwise from right) chief clerk Bill Gaylord, district attorney Jeff Mitchell, president judge Russell Shurtleff, sheriff Bob Roberts, solicitor Paul Litwin III, commissioners Tom Henry and Ernie King and commissioner Rick Wilbur via phone.
Story and photo by Rick Hiduk
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In a brief meeting of the Wyoming County Prison Board held before the regular commissioners meeting on Thursday morning, Warden Ken Repsher reported that an increase in female inmates could soon max out that block of the correctional facility in Tunkhannock.
“I’m hoping that we won’t have to ship anybody out,” he said of resuming outsourcing of prisoners to other facilities. “But we may not have a choice.” The dorm, which is designed to hold no more than 14 women, is not quite full yet, Repsher noted afterward, as there are female inmates in quarantine and in isolation.
The release of a number of non-violent offenders to probation or parole supervision at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic kept the number of inmates in check for the first time in five years or more. The cost of placing inmates in other facilities dropped quickly from a high of $5,555 in January to an average of $1,675 per month since March. But courts have resumed, and sentencing is again on the rise. Intakes outpaced releases 31 to 24 last month, and there are currently 40 men and 15 woman at the jail.
There have been no changes in the visitation policy at the prison while the pandemic and everything related seems to be in a holding pattern. “We’ve been extremely cautious at the jail,” said Henry, noting that the protocol remains the same in all county buildings. “We know this is burdensome on the prisoners. But we want to err on the side of safety.”
In a related matter, resuming the court schedule has also increased the number of people with outstanding bench warrants, according to sheriff Bob Roberts. His department was very proactive at reducing the amount of bench warrants on file after Roberts was sworn into office in January. Now, for whatever reason, people are missing their rescheduled court dates, he related, which automatically generates a warrant.
Roberts said that he and his deputies are doing everything they can to prevent people in that situation from being sent to prison. “If we can resolve the situation on the scene, we do,” he said of serving the warrants.