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Charges against chaplain prompt changes at Pa. county prison

November 04, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Some physical changes will be made at the Franklin County Prison complex in an effort to prevent incidents such as the ones that led to criminal charges against a prison chaplain last month.

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At Thursday's monthly meeting of the county Prison Board, Warden Raymond Rosenberry said he will suggest enlarging windows in the doors of two conference rooms to give corrections officers a better view inside the rooms at the prison annex where female inmates are housed.

Rosenberry also wants to add windows to the doors of two conference rooms at the main prison and convert a holding cell for additional conference space.

The suggestions come in the wake of Pennsylvania State Police filing charges of institutional sexual assault and bringing contraband into the jail against the Rev. Larry Johnson. The charges were filed Oct. 26 after what police said was an 18-month investigation into complaints against Johnson, who is also a Third Ward councilman in Chambersburg.

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Police allege he fondled female inmates and took money to inmates during visits.

He also was charged with soliciting a prostitute in an incident that took place in a Greencastle, Pa., motel on Sept. 16.

Rosenberry said other measures could include placing video cameras in conference areas. He said the effectiveness of video and other measures is limited, however.

"Regardless of how many you put in, you still need someone to observe, and our officers are very busy," he said.

"I've had a number of defense attorneys speak to me recently, saying they feel uncomfortable in some cases to meet with female inmates," said District Attorney John F. Nelson, a member of the Prison Board.

He said lawyers meeting with inmates fear they could become victims of false accusations.

Nelson said video tapes of conferences between inmates and lawyers, clergy and others could be preserved for a period of time to deter false accusations.

"If that person doesn't come forward within a week, that would say something about the veracity of the allegation," he said.

Rosenberry said whatever measures are taken have to address the rights of inmates to meet privately with their attorneys and clergy.

Johnson was placed on leave of absence by the Franklin County Prison Chaplaincy Committee on Sept. 20. Rosenberry said the committee, which is funded by area churches, has provided a male and female chaplain for the prison.

"Unless there is an extreme emergency, the male chaplain will not deal with female inmates," the warden said.

Any changes at the prison that require funding will have to be approved by the Board of County Commissioners. The commissioners are also members of the Prison Board.

The Prison Board did not discuss the allegations of improper conduct by Johnson since his case is still pending. He is scheduled for mandatory arraignment in court on Wednesday, Dec. 8.

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