Officials: prison law library needs upgrade

September 06, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - With pages from law journals in the Franklin County Prison law library consistently disappearing, the Prison Board is looking at ways to keep the library up to federal standards.

"Self-help litigation books bought a couple of years ago are gone. The way things are, it's going to remain a mess," said Franklin County District Attorney Jack Nelson.

The prison is bound by a 1989 consent decree to have an adequate law library for inmates and a contract attorney to assist prisoners, Warden John Wetzel said.


Nelson said if the library improves, maybe the prison can petition to have the requirement of a contract attorney lifted.

The stiffer requirements were put in place after an inmate sued because of the inadequacies of the law library at the time, Wetzel said.

The county has not been able to find a contract attorney since the previous one left last winter.

During Thursday's monthly Prison Board meeting, members discussed different ways of keeping better oversight of the library, including hiring law clerks or retired attorneys to keep tabs on the books.

"If the library is up to snuff we might not be required to have a contract attorney. The money for the contract attorney can be used to update the library every two years," Judge Douglas Herman said.

It is a constitutional requirement for inmates to have access to the courts and be able to assist in their defense.

Wetzel said the library is in a small room at the prison on Franklin Farm Lane. It is open to inmates at certain times each day.

He said the chart of sentencing guidelines - the minimum time the law requires for each crime - disappears most often.

He said the prison is waiting for new copies to hang throughout the prison, which he expects will help stop those materials from disappearing from the library.

Wetzel said he will pursue the options and make a recommendation at next month's board meeting.

Also at Thursday's Prison Board meeting:

Wetzel said the prison passed a follow-up inspection by the state Department of Corrections on Wednesday.

In a February inspection, Wetzel said the department pointed out 14 out of 116 categories that could be improved on. Since then, the prison has painted and cleaned the jail and increased staff training, he said.

Prison Board President Bob Thomas said Fulton County approved a change in its contract with Franklin County Prison to pay $45 a day for each inmate housed at the prison.

Previously Fulton County, which does not have its own prison, paid $40 a day while Franklin County was paying $45 a day to send its own prisoners to other jails when it was overcrowded.

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