CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield County Jail has been seeing an increased number of inmates in recent years, and the result has been an incredible strain on finances for the jail.
Unfortunately, the Clearfield County Prison Board members do not see an end in sight and are working to find ways to alleviate some of the pressure.
During Thursday’s prison board meeting, the board discussed the budget and causes for the situation.
Board member and County Commissioner Mark McCracken noted the jail is already over budget on contracted services, overtime, food and medical, at a result of about $368,000 in shortfall.
McCracken said he believes it is time to look at it as a crisis situation.
Warden Gregory Collins said he has moved around what money he could, but the budget is so tight there is little room to move.
The average daily population of the jail is about 161, Collins said. In an answer to a question from President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman, he said it’s been over a year since they haven’t needed to house inmates in other counties.
If they had all the inmates together, the population would reach 180. The average daily cost for an inmate at the jail is between $63-65 per day, Collins said.
Ammerman commented that a major cause of strained population, and strained finances, is the methamphetamine epidemic, which he said is worse than narcotics.
He said whenever the police arrest someone, they normally find that the person has one or more warrant out on them, and Collins added that they often find the inmates have warrants from other counties and even other states.
Sometimes they are able to get these people transported to these other jurisdictions or utilize video conferencing.
“I’ve been an elected official for 37 years, and I’ve never seen the jail like this,” Ammerman said.
With additional inmates and the meth epidemic, the costs of not only housing are higher, but medical care and prescriptions have increased at an incredible rate, as well.
Collins said the people who are on meth when they come to the jail are extremely ill and don’t care. He estimated about 85 percent of those who are incarcerated are on the drug.
Contributing to the medical costs are that five of the inmates are pregnant women and many of the inmates have regular—sometimes daily—methadone clinic appointments.
Commissioner Tony Scotto noted that the county is also in financial straits and noted that Children and Youth Services Office is also over budget.
Ammerman said that the two issues are related and Collins agreed, noting that CYS caseworkers now visit the jail on a daily basis to talk with clients.
One thing that would help the population would be allowing inmates to participate in work release. However, the majority does not have jobs and Collins said most cannot keep jobs.
In May the month began with three in work release, with two added, two paroled and ending with three. June began with three with none added, one paroled and ending with two.
The population as a whole began with 160 in May with 160 committed, 159 released and the month ended with 154. June began with 154, with 131 committed, 124 released and ending with 167. In May 37 were on home detention, and 30 in June.
Two items were looked at to help with the budget problem. The board voted to recommend that the commissioners accept a contract with National Bond and Collection Inc. of Kingston, Pa., to act as the collections agent for CCJ.
The board also approved initiating a $25 booking fee, which has been discussed for several months. The fee would be charged to an inmate when they are incarcerated at the jail and would come out of their commissary fund before the money can be used for anything else.
Controller Tom Adamson asked if this wasn’t a double fee for booking since when someone is arrested they are also booked at the jail. Collins explained that they are separate events.
When someone is arrested, the police take them to a booking center, one of which is located in DuBois and the other at the jail, although it is separate from the booking done for jail inmates.
The booking that takes place when a person is arrested involves a cost of $25, which is part of the fines and costs, and goes to the District Attorney’s office. The booking fee proposed by Collins for the jail would be charged when someone becomes an inmate at CCJ.
When the board voted on allowing the fee to be charged, Adamson voted no, stating he believed it was a double fee and the inmates do not have the money.
Collins said he hopes the jail will see about $15,000-20,000 a year from the fee.