State of Emergency Limits Opportunities for Inmates

By Rick Hiduk

(Exclusive to readers)

In a meeting of the Bradford County Prison Board today, Warden Don Stewart explained that COVID-19 pandemic concerns continue to affect operations at the prison in Burlington. There have been no reported cases of coronavirus at the jail or positive tests, and administrators want to keep it that way.

On behalf of an unnamed defense attorney, district attorney Chad Salsman asked Stewart and judge Maureen Beirne when work release for inmates might be resumed.

Our medical provider is still advising not letting people in and out,” Stewart replied. “They would be stuck in quarantine every time they come in.”

I think we have to follow the medical advice at this point in time,” Beirne remarked.

For the same reason, the Community Workforce Program that would normally be supplying labor for municipal projects during warm weather has also been stymied.

They are starting to ease restrictions,” Stewart said of the state’s Department of Health. The length of quarantine has recently been reduced from 21 to 14 days. “Our area of the state is seeing less cases.”

His monthly report indicated that eight prisoners headed to state facilities were recently tested for COVID-19 and were determined to be negative. “That’s good for us to know too,” Stewart stated.

The best news from the prison is that employment there has stabilized. There are currently 34 fulll-time corrections officers and seven working part time. Two COs recently resigned, and one was terminated, but part time COs have applied for those jobs. “It’s the best we’ve been in a long time,” Stewart said of the nearly full roster, “and we should have that other position filled soon.”

Two instances deemed extraordinary occurrences were logged in the Prison Rape Elimination Act column. One male inmate filed a PREA complaint against another male for sexual harassment that was reported to the Pennsylvania State Police. A separate situation involved a male inmate accusing another male of making sexual comments that were overheard by four corrections officers. The alleged victim filed a complaint against the perpetrator and the officers, and the perpetrator was charged. Charges were also filed against a male inmate found to be making a weapon.

There are currently 110 prisoners in the Bradford County system, including 86 men and 23 women. Only one prisoner is boarded in another facility. There are 87 individuals on supervised bail, including one each placed by the judge and domestic relations.

Commissioner Doug McLinko asked how much longer the prison board would be restricted to virtual meetings via Zoom. Sheriff and board chairman C.J. Walters replied that the July meeting would likely be held at the Burlington facility as the State of Emergency is set to expire on June 30. The room where board members and the media generally gather is a confined space, he noted, so the meeting would likely be moved to another part of the prison

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