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Warden is credited with spearheading prison turnaround

Franklin County prison passes inspection with flying colors

Franklin County prison passes inspection with flying colors

March 07, 2003|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Members of the Prison Board are crediting Warden John Wetzel with turning around the Franklin County Prison this year, leading to a near-perfect inspection last month.

Wetzel said he received the Department of Corrections report earlier this week, which indicated three areas of a 117-section review that required attention.

"It's because of the crowding, and it's an old facility. There is really nothing we can do about it," he said.

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Wetzel was hired as warden just over a year ago, and he took on the task of cleaning up and reorganizing the 30-year-old prison that at times last summer was 150 inmates above capacity.

"I commend the warden. I had heard from the DOC they were very pleased with the turnaround," Franklin County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said. "I think it is one of the best, if not the best, inspections we've ever had."

The Feb. 6 inspection was a top-to-bottom assessment of the prison that lasted all day, Wetzel said.

The inspection report noted three areas for improvement, including the classification of inmates, housing concerns relating to the heating system and cell size, and the condition of the annex that houses work-release inmates.

"We house inmates based on risk and security needs. When the system is this full" some inmates in the main jail may be in a lower-class cell because the higher-class cells are full, Wetzel said.

Unless the inmate population decreases or the county builds a new prison, that can not be addressed, he said.

Wetzel said the county is tackling the over-active heating system, but weather this winter slowed the repairs. The inspection report also cited limited floor space in each cell, which Wetzel said he is mitigating by allowing inmates into common areas for most of the day.

"I don't think we can get any better at this point, given the limitations of the facility," he said.

"They said it's clean and staff morale is up," Wetzel said.

Also at Thursday's meeting of the Prison Board, which includes representatives for all county offices involved in the prison system, members discussed changes that may be made to the state regulations that govern prison operations.

Wetzel said new rules that would limit the style of bedding the prison uses, require annual assessment of employees and limit capacity could cost the county extra money and severely hamper operations at the prison.

"The costs of changes would be outrageous," he said.

Wetzel has drafted a letter in preparation for a comment period on the proposed statewide changes.

The Prison Board's next meeting is April 3 at 8:30 a.m.

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