Gov.-elect Corbett offers Franklin Co. jail warden a job

John Wetzel has been nominated to head the state Department of Corrections

December 17, 2010|By DON AINES |
  • Franklin County Jail Warden John Wetzel is shown in this 2002 Herald-Mail file photo. Gov.-elect Tom Corbett nominated Wetzel to head the state Department of Corrections.
Franklin County Jail Warden John Wetzel is shown in this 2002 Herald-Mail file photo. Gov.-elect Tom Corbett nominated Wetzel to head the state Department of Corrections.

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Franklin County Jail Warden John Wetzel has been nominated by Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Tom Corbett to head the state Department of Corrections.

If confirmed as secretary by the state Senate, Wetzel will head a department with 16,000 employees and more than 50,000 inmates in 27 state prisons.

The department's fiscal 2011 budget is about $1.7 billion, according to The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. In addition to the 27 prisons, the department also manages a number of community corrections centers across the state similar to halfway houses, Wetzel said.

"I genuinely like and believe in the guy, and that's the big part of it for me," Wetzel said about his prospective new boss. "In the times we're facing I really think he's the right guy."

The governor-elect a few weeks ago named Wetzel co-chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee on Corbett's transition team, Wetzel said.

"I talked to him Thursday morning, and he offered me the job," Wetzel said. "Of course, I accepted immediately."

Corbett announced Wetzel's nomination Friday.

Wetzel, 41, was hired by the county in 2002 to head what was then the Franklin County Prison. He spearheaded efforts by the county to enlist public support for the construction of the 470-bed, $28 million Franklin County Jail, which opened in 2007.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell also tapped Wetzel in 2007 to serve on the state Board of Pardons. Corbett, the state attorney general, also served on the Pardons Board, Wetzel said.

Corbett won the gubernatorial election in 2010, defeating Democrat Dan Onorato.

David Keller, chairman of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, said Wetzel's nomination "is a proud day for all, of Franklin County."

"If he is given the freedom and flexibility to accomplish at the state level what he has accomplished in Franklin County the entire commonwealth will benefit," Keller said.

"He is one of the smartest people I've ever known and a great problem solver," said Keller, who also complimented Wetzel's ability to work with people.

"Like all great leaders he has developed his staff" to perform at a high level, Keller said. That will ease the transition as the county seeks Wetzel's replacement, he said.

A graduate of Bloomsburg (Pa.) University with a degree in psychology, Wetzel was an all-conference lineman for the Huskies. Wetzel said he became a corrections officer in 1989 and later worked at Berks County (Pa.) Jail, where he eventually headed its training department before coming to Franklin County.

While the jail project was an important piece of dealing with overcrowding in the county's old prison, Wetzel said, "the Day Reporting Center was probably more important than the new jail."

Some criminal offenders are assigned to the center where they receive drug and alcohol testing, counseling and other services as an alternative to jail.

"The biggest thing is the team of staff we've built" at the jail, Wetzel said.

"It was a tough meeting for me," he said of informing the corrections officers and staff of his nomination. "It got real quiet."

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