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Book is a how-to for families of Pa. prison inmates

November 10, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Having set another record for inmate population in October, Franklin County Prison Warden John Wetzel said a new publication likely will prove popular with the loved ones of inmates.

"This has actually been a pretty hot item ... The families really appreciate it," Wetzel said of "Handbook for Family and Friends of Franklin County Prison Inmates." The warden said he hopes to expand distribution of the book from the prison to include district justice offices, libraries, certain county offices and other venues.

"Corrections, in general, does a horrible job dealing with families," Wetzel said. That includes how people are treated when they come to the prison to visit, not that a certain amount of caution is not warranted, he said.

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"We've had two people smuggle drugs in in the past year in their children's diapers," Wetzel said.

Wetzel said some changes that make sense already have been made. For example, visiting hours are after office hours, and the lobby used to be locked at 4:30 p.m. as a matter of routine. That meant many visitors, who had to rely on rides to get to the jail, were forced to wait outside regardless of the weather.

At one time, people who came by with money orders were told that the orders had to be mailed in, another source of inconvenience and frustration, he said.

"It cuts down on the frustration and the phone calls and the wasted trips," Wetzel said of the handbook.

The book lists the days and hours of visitation, Mondays through Thursdays from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the main building and 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays through Sundays at the work release annex. Friends and family are asked to call ahead and confirm the day of their visit.

With the average daily population in October topping 380 in a facility built to hold 200, Wetzel said it is frustrating for inmates whose relatives may get only brief visits because of the overcrowding.

Prisoners usually are dressed in orange jumpsuits in court or while in transit. In jail, however, the handbook explains what other clothing and possessions they are allowed.

In the main building, that includes seven sets of T-shirts, underwear and socks, all of which must be white. A pair of shoes or sneakers is allowed, though high tops are not permitted. Sweat shirts without hoods are allowed, along with sweat pants and shorts.

In the annex, the list is much the same, except there are provisions for street clothes, since many report to jobs. Certain other necessities for working also are allowed.

The list of clothing for women inmates includes seven white bras, but no wire cups.

The book also includes a list of frequently-called telephone numbers, including the district justices in Franklin and Fulton counties, and contact information for Wetzel and other prison officials.

While the handbook contains information about the local prison, the bulk of it was written by Judith E. Sturges, an assistant professor with Penn State University's Fayette campus, and applies to the criminal justice system statewide. There also is a section on understanding rules and regulations of county prisons and one entitled "Coping with Incarceration."

That last section includes information about helping a child deal with a parent being in jail, family finances and support groups.

"Ninety percent of our inmates are Franklin Countians" and will continue to live here after their release, Wetzel said. Helping the inmates and their families through the experience of incarceration is important to re-establishing themselves in the community, he said.

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