Photo and Story by Rick Hiduk
(March 13 update: After Wednesday’s sentencings, which included a 10-month to four-year mandate for Robin Gorton-Parrish for embezzling more than $34,000 from the Noxen Fire Company, prison population in Wyoming County stood at 70 inmates. The decision by Judge Shurtleft concerning Gorton-Parrish did not affect the population, as she has been incarcerated after testing positive for cocaine early in her judicial process.)
As of March 11, there were 72 inmates lodged at the Wyoming County Prison in Tunkhannock; 57 men and 15 women.
“We’re still full and hoping to make it through sentencing day,” said Warden Ken Repsher. “Either way, tomorrow will come.” The latter remark was in reference to March 12, as sentences are handed down by the county judge on Wednesdays.
There is currently one Susquehanna County prisoner in the Wyoming County jail and one Wyoming County prisoner currently held at the Lackawanna County Correctional Facility. The latter is not a result of overcrowding, Repsher noted, but rather an unspecified issue between an inmate and a corrections officer. Citing a 2003 state law, Repsher said, “he had to be moved out.”
Wyoming County is paid $1,705 per month to house the inmate from Susquehanna County while paying $2,080 per month to keep a prisoner in Lackawanna County.
New details were released concerning the Feb. 24 shutdown of the heating system at the prison. Melting snow and a faulty gasket were blamed for a sludge buildup in a fuel tank.
A Hazmat team was brought in at a cost of $3,662 to suck out the sludge.
In the meantime, usable fuel was moved to smaller tanks, allowing the facility to provide heat while the overall problem was rectified. Wyoming County Judge Russell Shurtleft related that everyone involved moved promptly to address the shutdown.
“It was a costly project, but it has been fixed,” noted Wyoming County Commissioner Tom Henry. “We had the heat back on quickly, and we didn’t have to move any prisoners.”
In a separate issue, Henry noted that contractor Bill Ivey is still waiting for parts needed to upgrade the prison’s hot water system.
Henry also related that he toured the prison last week with the interim directors of Luzerne-Wyoming Counties Mental Health and Developmental Services and the Luzerne/Wyoming Counties Drug and Alcohol Program.
James Davis and Mike Donahue, respectively, chose to visit the facility on a day when counselors from both entities were scheduled to work with prisoners. Henry noted that both were satisfied with how the respective programs are being implemented at the jail.
“They are being very helpful in dealing with Wyoming County, and we’re very grateful for that,” he remarked.
Repsher noted in his monthly report that drug and alcohol counselors from A Better Today spent 38 hours at the prison while mental health counselors logged 22 hours at the facility.
Attorney Deborah Heise asked if county prisoners do work outside the jail, as she had heard of a group of inmates clearing garbage from roadways in the area. Repsher related that no Wyoming County inmates were currently working outside, but some likely would be later in the spring.