The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 3, 2013

Start toward common-sense management

Daily Item

---- — Northumberland County Commissioner Vinnie Clausi's one-man crusade to reform the county's prison played out for all to see this week.

What Clausi did was accelerate the pace on possible reform in the prison, highlighting some of the inadequacies in the 134-year old facility, both in terms of personnel -- including a guard who was fired for bringing drugs into the facility -- and infrastructure.

No one doubts action needs to be taken and maybe it took Clausi's rallying points this week to put the wheels in motion. The key now is doing things the correct way because the quicker pace for reform can have both a negative and positive impact.

One of the first questions that needs answered regarding the facility is this: Is the prison issue a people problem, or a facility problem?

What makes solving all the problems difficult is that the answer is likely a combination of both.

A professional staff is a must in any sort of correctional facility, if for no other reason than the fact an untrained officer could escalate a minor situation into something much more dangerous in a matter of moments.

But even the best training and top-flight management will have difficulties overcoming a facility that is struggling to do a 21st century job in an 18th century building.

There are physical limitations for even the best staff that atmosphere. So you wonder how can the improvements that need to be made actually come to fruition in a facility like this?

There are options available and talks have already begun regarding the possibility of a new prison in the city. There are other alternatives as well, that can reduce overcrowding, a key stressor that can ramp up tensions among both inmates and officers.

Like many prisons in the United States today, Northumberland County's facility has a mix of inmates that likely don't need to be together. There are violent offenders among those who did not pay child support, or someone who was arrested for public drunkenness.

Maybe it is time to look at a way to clean the minor offenders out of the prison. It can be with electronic monitors or a day-reporting program similar to something already in place in Union County. Low-level criminals come in daily and receive counseling, treatment for substance abuse and educational assistance.

It won't solve all the problems, but it will be start toward a common-sense management.