CLEARFIELD – During Thursday’s Prison Board meeting the board heard from a member of the public who has concerns regarding operations at the Clearfield County Jail.
Amber Perry had drafted a letter to State Rep. Tommy Sankey; however, she first sent a copy of the draft to the Clearfield County Commissioners. A copy of the letter was also sent to President Judge Fredric Ammerman, who chairs the board meetings.
Ammerman noted prior to her speaking that for a member of the public to speak at the meeting, he prefers that they submit something to him in writing indicating what they want to address before he will have them put on the agenda.
Perry began by explaining to the board that she has been coming to the jail to visit her boyfriend regularly for five months. She said many of the concerns she had were witnessed by her, and she was asked by family members of other inmates to bring items to the board.
Perry explained that these people are afraid to come forward in fear of retaliation on themselves or the inmates. She said that she understands that the inmates are there because they made mistakes, but the family members should be treated with respect and often the correction officers are not polite, though some are.
Issues raised included family members coming to visit their loved one and being told that person was restricted from visiting that day, even after they had called.
After the family leaves, Perry said, the officers will see that the list they are using is a couple days old and the person is allowed to have visitors, and she said the officers will laugh about the situation.
She raised questions about how medication is given to patients and said someone had told her the nurse at the jail has said the warden won’t get her any help.
Perry said she has been told that the nurse isn’t even allowed to pass out the medications to the inmates.
Warden Greg Collins explained how the process works. The medications have to be approved by both the inmate’s doctor and the jail’s doctor before the nurse will sign off, and some medications are not approved at all. The nurse supervises the medication distribution, but the officers are the ones that give them to the patients, which is a standard practice, he said.
Another issue Perry raised was commissary money not being put on inmate accounts immediately because the officer in charge may have other duties, and suggested that more than one person could handle the accounts.
She also said someone told her there was a verbal policy from the warden that all prisoners observe Lent on Friday’s whether or not they are Catholic.
Upon further questioning from the board, it was revealed that this apparently referred to fish being served on Friday, and Ammerman noted that it isn’t necessarily a religious thing to be served fish on Friday.
Perry also talked about a mother from New York who comes to visit her son and how that has been a hardship on her and she has nearly lost her job over it.
Collins spoke up and said that people who have to travel long distances can contact the jail and make special arrangements for visits, and that he regularly does this for other people and handicapped people as well.
After roughly 30 minutes. Sheriff Michael Churner stated that much of what Perry was bringing up was hearsay and there was little that could be done about it.
He said it is extremely helpful if they are provided with names, dates and times as well as what the concern is in order for the board or warden to take action.
Ammerman added that the board is concerned with making sure that all policies and procedures are followed, but also he wants everyone involved to remember the inmates are human beings and need to be treated as such.
He asked Perry to send a copy of the final draft of her letter to the commissioners and they will distribute copies to the other board members for review.
In other matters, the board learned that February started with 151 inmates, with 110 committed, 103 released and an average daily population of 158.
The month ended with 150 inmates. However, as of Thursday, there are 158 inmates with 27 additional housed in Jefferson County.
Collins said that this is a problem other counties are facing and the commissioners agreed that they need to start considering what they are going to do to handle the population issue.
Ammerman asked to be included on any discussions. The jail is on trend to exceed the budgeted amount for out-of-county housing if the trend continues.
The board also discussed housing costs. Last month the board learned Eastern Revenue Inc. would no longer be collecting the money and Collins has looked into options.
He had information from some other companies that do that kind of work as well as from other jails on how they handle the issue.
Collins would like to start collecting a $25 booking fee from each inmate, which, if not paid, would be deducted from their commissary accounts before the money is made available to the inmates.
He suggested they could charge in-county inmates the booking fee. Other inmates, such as those held for the Attorney General’s office, would be charged for housing since the AG is prompt in repayment. He said this is something Elk County does.
The board asked him to continue researching the matter.