In March, amid staffing shortages and inconsistent leadership due to retirements, Northumberland County leaders declared its county jail was in a “state of emergency.” Nearly seven months later, at least on the surface, things don’t seem to have improved all that much.

Members of the prison board and jail leaders said this week they are being proactive, trying to fill positions as needed. Warden Tom Reisinger said the jail is operating “normally on a day-to-day basis.”

In a March 28 Daily Item article announcing the state of emergency, county officials said there were 37 corrections officers on staff and more than 230 inmates. During this week’s prison board meeting, the warden said there are currently 37 full-time COs and three part-time COs to oversee 199 inmates.

The shortages have led to lockdowns to ensure the safety of inmates and corrections officers when staffing was at its lowest levels.

Northumberland County’s facility is not alone in these problems. Commissioner chair Sam Schiccatano and Sheriff Bob Wolf both said officials from other counties told them they are seeing similar trends and struggles to fill positions. According to published reports, the Pennsylvania Prison Society, a nonprofit group that advocates for inmates, asked more than two dozen county representatives at a meeting earlier this year if they were seeing a continued shortage of corrections officers.

“Almost all said yes,” Executive Director Claire Shubik-Richards said. Some larger jails, the society notes, are short by hundreds of guards.

Running a corrections facility is an incredibly tough job. Prison officials and their employees are on heightened alert continuously — even more so when staffing is short — because the job requires being perfect 100 percent of the time. If not, even a 1 percent slip, means someone — a guard, an inmate, or other staffers — can be injured or worse in an instant.

Prison officials have said they are doing everything they can to alleviate the problem. Prison board chair Judge Charles Saylor applauded Reisinger and his staff for being proactive.

Unfortunately, staffing woes continue. Lockdowns continue. The fact that there is the exact same number of guards today as when staffing was at an emergent level in March is most certainly disappointing for county officials.

They must continue to be proactive to fill these gaps and perhaps find new ways to attract, recruit, hire and maintain a consistent level of COs that alleviate some of the stress, pressure and danger to an already overworked staff.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Editor William Bowman.

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