The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 13, 2012

County investigating prison guard sex chat call


The Daily Item

— SUNBURY—Four Northumberland County Prison correction officers have lost their jobs, including two in the last week and a half, but prison officials are refusing to explain publicly what prompted the dismissals.

In one of the cases, a guard allegedly called a sex chat phone number and then broadcast the audio throughout the prison via walkie-talkie.

WardenRoy Johnson said used force to control inmates at least three times recently, but, as of Wednesday, he had not watched videotape of the incidents.

“I guess I need to watch them now,” Johnson said Wednesday after being contacted by The Daily Item. “I haven’t had a chance yet.”

He also won’t talk about another corrections officer allegedly calling a 900 number and broadcasting the conversation throughout Northumberland County Prison via walkietalkie.

“We don’t talk about personnel,” he said. Johnson also would not say whether at least two guards have been fired in the past 10 days due to either sexual harassment or jailhouse shenanigans. He wou ld say that four guards were axed in the past three months. That number was confirmed by county human resources director Joe Picarelli, who said one of the terminated employees was a sergeant hired in 2006.

Among the recent incidents at the lockup, Johnson said, are two inmates who needed to be detained and that “force was used.”

Johnson said did not view videotape of the force and denied a request by The Daily Item to view the videotape, citing security reasons.

Any use of planned force must be videotaped, he said.

“This was on tape,” he said. “I only read the report and I have not viewed anything.”

Stephen Bridy, Northumberland County commissioner and prison board chairman, said he could not comment on the incidents, but did say time is of the essence.

“If guards have too much time on their hands, then maybe we need to do something about that,” he said. “If it is true that they have a lot of free time, then maybe we don’t need so many. We should negotiate with the unions if these guards have this much time on their hands.”

The average guard makes about $12 per hour and the senior staff can earn up to $20 per hour, Johnson said.

Turnover for prison employees seems to be high, Johnson said.

“Yes, we do have several different guards come in and out of here,” Johnson said. “We are a training ground for the state system and we also hire at a part-time level to start so people leave because they find new jobs. We also hire people who sometimes find themselves in disciplinary situations.”