County Jail Board Meeting Heats Up

Jefferson County Jail BoardBROOKVILLE, Pa. (EYT) – The Jefferson County Jail Board meets once a month, and it typically is brief and non-controversial.

Wednesday was not one of those meetings.

It lasted more than a hour, and there were two lengthy debates about procedures in the jail.

The first centered on when a person arrested by a police agency actually becomes the county’s responsibility.

Recently, Punxsutawney Borough Police Chief Matt Conrad and Officer Ryan Miller had taken a man that Miller arrested to the County Jail, but the jail wouldn’t accept him because the man claimed he had suffered a head injury.

In such instances, jail policy dictates that the police have to take the person to a hospital to make sure there is nothing wrong with the person before the jail will take custody.

Miller, a 13-year veteran of the force in Punxsy, said he wanted clarification and training on the jail’s policies and procedures.

“The nurse (at the jail) wouldn’t even look at him,” Miller said. “I never did anything to him. He was just trying to delay the inevitable.”

“Never in my 13 years have I had my integrity questioned like this. He had no injuries.”

However, Jail Warden Tom Elbel said the prisoner did stagger, and Miller and Conrad had trouble getting him out of the squad car.

One of the major things that bothered Miller and Conrad, who was assisting in the transportation of the prisoner, was that Punxsy was left without police protection for three hours.

“This has happened numerous times before,” said County Commissioner Jeff Pisarcik, who also sits on the jail board with Jack Matson and Herb Bullers along with District Attorney Jeff Burkett, Treasurer James “Moon” VanSteenburg, and Sheriff Carl Gotwald.

“People will make these claims, but it is the jail’s duty to avoid liability,” Pisarcik said. “Is it perfect? No, but they have to be cautious in those situations.”

Miller also disputed on the interpretation of the jail’s rules for taking ownership of a prisoner.

Miller and Conrad had the prisoner in the vehicle sally port, and Miller considered the prisoner to be under the control of the jail.

Elbel pointed out that they do not take ownership of a prisoner until he or she is in the main sally port.

Miller disagreed, saying that as soon as the judge’s gavel drops, the prisoner is the county’s.

Burkett attempted to act as a mediator, saying he understood both sides, but until the jail takes ownership of the prisoner, he or she is the responsibility of the arresting party.

Elbel made his position clear, saying, “If someone claims a head injury that can’t be determined visually, the jail does not have medical equipment to give a MRI or CAT scan.”

“I’m not attacking you Tom because we work well together, but this is something I need clarification on when he becomes an inmate,” Miller said.

Matson said it was definitely a gray area that needed to be more well defined and that all the parties would get together to attempt to resolve the issue.

The other issue that arose was about how inmates in work release programs are fed.

VanSteenberg had some questions about it after someone told him a former inmate claimed he got sick after eating dinner that had been left out after it was heated up. The inmate had arrived back at the jail after dinner time because of his job.

“I think that when an inmate returns to the jail in the evening, their food should be warmed up,” VanSteenberg said. “It would prevent food-borne illnesses, and that is something that could be a liability issue for the county.”

He also said there should be a way for inmates to keep their lunch food cold while they are at work.

Elbel said that, to his knowledge, there’s never been a food-borne illness at the jail.

“It’s never been reported to me,” Elbel said.

Elbel said that he would have the jail’s food service provider, Nutrition Inc., look into it.

In other jail business, Elbel reported on the following:

– NARCAN is available at the jail, and his entire staff is trained on how to administer it. NARCAN is a substance that can reverse the affects of a heroin overdose.

– Lifeskill classes are now being offered at the jail. They teach inmates how to prepare for a job interview, write a resume, and other things that may help them be more productive when they are released and not return to crime.

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