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County Shifting To New System For Managing Jail

June 20th, 2021

History was made on Thursday when Potter County Commissioners Nancy Grupp, Barry Hayman and Paul Heimel voted unanimously to adopt a new system of management for the county jail. Potter is one of just two counties in the state that still require their elected sheriff to serve in a dual role as jail warden. Under the plan was approved on Thursday, a seven-member “prison board” will be seated on or about Aug. 1 to assume responsibility for jail operations. Members include the sheriff, president judge, district attorney, treasurer and commissioners. That panel will hire and supervise a warden, who is responsible for day-to-day management — to include safety, security and orderly operation — while ensuring the county’s risk of civil litigation is minimized and the rights of the detainees/inmates are protected.

The sheriff-as-warden system harkens back to an era when operating a jail was geared toward punishment, confinement and removing menaces from society. That system was not designed to administer state-mandated services such as mental health/addiction treatment and other changes in the corrections field. At the same time, duties of a county sheriff have expanded in areas unrelated to operating a jail.

Commissioner Hayman pointed out that McKean will be soon be the only Pennsylvania county where the elected sheriff is also required to serve as jail warden. “These are two separate jobs and this action is no reflection on the current sheriff, Glenn Drake,” Hayman said. “History is leaning toward more accountability and having more public eyes on the operation of a county jail.”

Commissioner Heimel said the prison board model provides greater opportunities to address some of the factors that have landed people behind bars. “Providing mental health and addiction treatment, GED assistance, life skills, employability, housing assistance and other services in a jail setting have been proven to reduce the likelihood of a person ending up back in jail once he gets out. It can save the county a lot of money — the jail is the single highest expense to the taxpayers.”

“Those are our neighbors sitting in there and what kind of neighbor do you want?” Commissioner Grupp added. “Do you want a neighbor who is going to go back to the criminal activity that got them there in the first place?”

Investigation of the prison board option has been in the works for more than a year. The commissioners studied best practices from more than two dozen counties where prison boards operate and conducted other research prior to casting Thursday’s vote. (Source: Endeavor News.)

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