The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

September 23, 2012

Northumberland County Prison overstaffed, Bridy says

NORTHUMBERLAND — Northumberland County Commissioner Stephen Bridy attributes the high turnover among county prison corrections officers in the past year to overstaffing.

“After a few years, some officers get bored and do something stupid and break policies,” Bridy said Friday, referring to the terminations of eight staff members for infractions ranging from dialing a phone-sex line and broadcasting the call throughout the jail to testing positive for marijuana.

“They have too much time on their hands,” Bridy said.

He’s quick to add that Warden Roy Johnson, whom he credits with doing a good job despite accusations of guard brutality from two inmates who filed separate lawsuits last week, doesn’t agree that overstaffing is a problem. Johnson was out of the office and unavailable for comment.

Despite the lawsuits and firings, filling the vacancies isn’t too difficult since the starting hourly wage of a Northumberland County Prison corrections officer is $12.19 for a job that requires a high school diploma or GED and passing a physical exam and criminal background check.

The county’s other requirements for the position are that candidates be able to follow written and oral instructions; need minimum supervision; have good judgment and are alert; communicate effectively; know basic first aid, and know methods of searching and inspection and safety and fire prevention.

There are 51 full- and part-time corrections officers in charge of overseeing about 210 inmates in the North Second Street jail.

Doug Shaffer, warden at the Union County Jail, Lewisburg, and Ruth Rush, warden at the Snyder County Jail, near Selinsgrove, said turnover among corrections officers at their jails had been high in recent years as new recruits would secure higher-paying jobs at state or federal prisons soon after completing the mandatory state Department of Corrections training.

But due to a slowdown in federal and state penitentiary hirings, Rush said, she’s losing fewer employees to the larger penal institutions. Most of her staff have seven or more years of experience.

Vacancies come up about twice a year at the Snyder County Jail, she said, and attract 20 to 30 applicants each time.

Job seekers with a military education have an edge, but Rush said she’ll interview all candidates 21 and older who meet the basic requirements.

Shaffer, Rush and Bridy concur that verbal and written communication skills are the most important.

But the bottom line, Shaffer said, is “we’re looking for good, honest people.”

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