Panel backs former Franklin County, Pa., jail warden as prisons chief

The Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee gave John Wetzel its unanimous approval

April 12, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • John Wetzel of Chambersburg, Pa., stands in the state Capitol after his state Senate confirmation hearing. He is nominated to serve as the state's corrections secretary.
Jennifer Fitch, Staff Writer

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Former Franklin County, Pa., jail warden John Wetzel received unanimous approval Tuesday from the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee as its choice for state corrections secretary.

Wetzel, a Chambersburg, Pa., resident, is awaiting a confirmation vote from the Senate as a whole. He has been acting corrections secretary for 12 weeks after being tapped by Gov. Tom Corbett for the position.

Wetzel said he's visited 20 of the state's 27 prisons in his time as acting corrections secretary. He described his policy as "control what we can control" as he manages 16,000 employees and 51,000 inmates at a time when the legislature is facing a $4.2 billion deficit.

State Sen. Jane M. Earll, R-Erie, asked Wetzel about privatizing prison services, such as food service and mental health treatment.

"Everything is on the table in these budget times," Wetzel said.

Wetzel took over as warden of the Franklin County Prison, now the Franklin County Jail, in January 2002. He oversaw construction of the new jail on Opportunity Avenue as well as the transfer of 350 inmates there in 2007.

"By all accounts in our county, he's done a stellar job," said state Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin/Adams/York.

Alloway took a few minutes to re-introduce Wetzel, who has visited 40 senators, to the other members of the judiciary committee.

"I think he's going to do great things for Pennsylvania," Alloway said.

Wetzel announced earlier this year the Department of Corrections would scrap plans to build a $200 million state prison in Fayette County. A facility planned in Montgomery County will be redesigned.

"It's pretty obvious you've hit the ground running," said state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Bucks/Montgomery, who is committee chairman.

Wetzel said he's kept in touch with people from Franklin County via email. Franklin County Commissioner Bob Thomas, who is chairman of the county prison board, said Tuesday the prison board conducted interviews last week for a new warden and made a selection.

County administrators are negotiating salary and benefits with that person, Thomas said.

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