CLEARFIELD – The need to expand the existing jail or build a new one was a hot topic during the Clearfield County Prison Board meeting on Tuesday.
David Kessling, who has only been the warden of the jail since July, reported that the number of inmates has been increasing again since COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.
He explained that he has ordered more bunk beds for cells that only have a single bed and has looked into other rooms to house inmates but he said simply, “I need more space.”
Kessling went on to explain that with the money spent by the sheriff’s department transporting inmates to be housed in other county jails and the cost to keep them there a “tremendous amount of money is being pulled out of the county.”
County Commissioner Tony Scotto responded that the county does not want to have to do a $25 to $35 million project for a new building and suggested he look into improvements that can be made.
District Attorney Ryan Sayers said if we build a new prison, it would be filled quickly and would not be worth the cost to taxpayers. He then proposed the idea of building a bigger jail that could hold up to 250 inmates and then other counties “could pay us” to house their extra inmates.
Scotto noted that both Jefferson and Centre counties already have bigger jails. He said that perhaps more people could be sent to state prison instead.
President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman answered this by announcing that neither he nor Judge Paul Cherry would send someone to state prison only because the jail was full.
“They go because they deserve it,” he said.
County Commissioner John Sobel cited information on increased expenses with prison expansions in other counties.
County Commissioner David Glass pointed out there is a bigger problem with the building, which has been let go for too long.
Kessling agreed saying that there are four or five areas with major structural deficiencies and that when it rains, they should wear ponchos because the roof leaks so badly.
He is awaiting a report, which should determine whether these issues can be fixed easily. The question is whether we want to refurbish the old building or put up a new one, he said.
Currently the prison has 168 inmates.
In other business, the board:
- Noted that the pharmacy bill is again lower than normal.
- Heard about a proposed probation officer position inside the jail.
- Discussed problems about shift leaders, with Kessling saying “we need to do something” to have consistency of supervision instead of changing each shift.
- Reviewed a letter from Dr. Lawrence Levinson, who wants to return to his position at the jail.
- Learned about a company that would provide tablets for inmates at no cost to the county but the inmates would pay for them with part of that money given to the county. The company wants to do a presentation to the board.