The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 8, 2013

Promising steps forward for county prison


Daily Item

---- — Northumberland County Prison, the TV show, is a promising step forward in government efficiency and cost reduction for an aging and troubled jailhouse.

The county prison board and commissioners have two initiatives that will keep an eye on the place at all times, within legally permissible bounds, and reduce the potential for mischief and mayhem that seems to accompany transportation and appearances for court hearings.

The first idea finds a champion in Commissioner Vinny Clausi, who last week outlined a wish to place and operate cameras inside the prison at all times. This seems to follow from recent episodes within the cellblocks of altercations between corrections officers and inmates that resulted in lawsuits pitting employee and administrative statements against inmate testimony.

When a confrontation took place between inmates and officers last September in the Sunbury jail, there was no video record. At first, the prison warden thought there was videotape of the confrontation, but he had to backtrack later with an explanation that no one videotaped the incident because it was not a planned cell extraction.

There was, however, a written eye-witness account by another inmate. Without video, the inmate version versus the corrections officers' version seemed to invite a he-said-he-said federal lawsuit. Sure enough, there are two pending.

Judge Robert Sacavage and Commissioner Stephen Bridy seem to be the champions of the second idea, creating a small, well-appointed video courtroom within the prison for routine hearings, thus avoiding transport to the county courthouse.

That, too, appears to have grown out of experiences, one involving an inmate faking a leg injury and then making a break for it during transport and another in which various inmate gangs got into a rumble in crowded detention rooms while awaiting court appearances.

Now, with the video hearing facility in the prison, some of those opportunities for outside mischief will be circumscribed.

These solutions, which control expense and improve public safety, reflect wise use of proven modern video technology.

With some trepidation, knowing the prison's uneven record, we would like to say these are initial innovations that put Northumberland County's prison administration and oversight board on the road to correcting some obvious past missteps that has promise for the future.

Residents and taxpayers from Northumberland County should look for more forward thinking solutions that erase lingering memories of past mistakes.

Let's keep our fingers crossed.