As Clearfield County continues to struggle with having more inmates than space at the jail, the Clearfield County Prison Board discussed ways to address the problem.
Warden Greg Collins reported that the jail continues to be full and the county currently has 14 inmates housed in Jefferson County and one in Centre County because there isn’t space at the Clearfield County Jail to house them.
And over the past three months there have been times when the county has had as many as 29 inmates housed out-of-county.
“The criminal system, with the meth and the opioids and just in general, is the worst I’ve ever seen in my career,” board chairman President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman said.
As a result, the caseload for Children, Youth and Family Services has skyrocketed because drug addicts are not taking care of their children and Ammerman said he has never seen his and Judge Paul Cherry’s court schedules so tight.
The county has to pay Centre and Jefferson counties to house its inmates and in July, the commissioners reported the out-of-county housing expenses are expected to be about $370,000 over budget this year.
Ammerman noted that in August, the county spent $22,000 on providing prescription medications to inmates.
Controller Charles Adams noted that the cost of these prescriptions vary greatly from inmate to inmate, with some costing as little as $5 per month and others costing as much as $1,700 per month — and asked if these inmates were getting prescription medications prior to coming to jail.
Ammerman said inmates are not getting themselves thrown in jail to get health care. He said many of the inmates are drug addicts who were not addressing their health issues when they were out of jail and when they are incarcerated at the jail, the prison physician discovers the inmate needs life-sustaining medications and the jail is responsible to provide the medication.
Commissioner Mark McCracken said the new reality of inmate populations will be accounted for in next year’s budget.
Sheriff Michael Churner asked at what point does it make sense for the county to expand the jail instead of sending their money to other counties.
Commissioner Tony Scotto said it would cost about $10 million to expand the jail if they want to do it correctly, and this could be risky if the inmate population falls again.
Adamson said they should alleviate some of the problems by expanding the work release program. He said in recent years, the program has dropped off significantly. He said in 2013 the county made $33,000, 2014 $26,000, 2015 $25,000, 2016 $21,000, 2017 it dropped to $13,000 and in 2018 it is at $6,000.
Ammerman said it wasn’t too long ago where they would have 20 people on work release, now they average one a month.
Collins said when he first started at the jail they had 40 inmates on work release.
Adamson said the jail is rejecting too many people from participating in the work release program for not passing a drug test. He said people shouldn’t be kept off the work release program for something they did before they went to jail.
Collins said depending on how much drugs they took before going to jail, he said marijuana can stay in someone’s system for more than 90 days, methamphetamines and opiates will show up in tests for weeks and cocaine three days or so.
Adamson said they shouldn’t keep someone off work release for 90 days, causing them to lose their job and when they get out of jail they are living on the street.
He said the procedures for work release were written in 2002 and should be updated.
“The jail is finding ways to not admit them, they are trying to eliminate inmates in the work release program,” Adamson said.
He said inmates should only be eliminated from the work release program if they are caught using drugs while on the program, and not for doing drugs before coming to jail.
“Our recommendation is to revamp these 2002 procedures and maybe have a program where you want people in the program and not a program where you don’t want them in there,” Adamson said.
Collins said he wishes more inmates qualify for the work release program, but he said most of the inmates cannot pass drug tests and most do not have employment.
And he said some inmates will leave the jail for work release and never show up for their job, so many employers are now hesitant to hire inmates.
And Collins said the jail has to follow guidelines and cannot release inmates if they don’t pass a drug test.
The Progress asked if the jail has the ability to test for the amount of drugs an inmate has in their system. For example, if an inmate tests positive for a drug, and the inmate is let out on work release, can the jail determine whether that inmate took more of the drug while out on work release. Collins said the jail uses a urine test, which will give a positive or negative result for 11 different drugs, not the drug’s concentration in the body.
To get that, the samples would have to be sent to a lab for testing Collins said.
After the meeting, Adamson said perhaps they could set up a system where testing positive for marijuana doesn’t disqualify an inmate from participating in the work release program.
Ammerman suggested Adamson’s recommendation to the personnel committee, which is made up of Commissioner John Sobel, Churner and Ammerman.
Sobel agreed and said he agrees with both Collins and Adamson and said he agrees the personnel committee should study the issue.