Blair to put inmates to work

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County is taking steps to put more inmates to work through an exchange of services with PennDOT and through increased use of its prison work release program.

In exchange for Penn­DOT’s line-painting services on Convention Center Boule­vard and Convention Center Drive, the county intends to provide PennDOT with prison inmates and supervisory personnel for litter detail work on state-maintained roads.

It’s another example of different levels of government working together to benefit their constituents, Blair County Commissioner Terry Tomassetti said.

The exchange of services, through PennDOT’s Agility Program, also fits in with developing efforts to increase the number of county prison inmates in work release programs. As of Aug. 16, the county prison housed 298 inmates. Of that number, 10 males and no females eligible had work release assignments taking them outside the jail.

While the county prison used to have more inmates in work release programs, the number has been declining. At a prison board meeting Thursday, the state’s increase in victim-notification requirements was named as one reason.

But those requirements could be addressed through a committee Judge Daniel Milliron is trying to organize, with a goal of resolving issues and getting more inmates approved for work release.

Local employers may be interested in using inmate labor, but they have to be approached and encouraged, Warden Abbie Tate told the prison board.

Tate recalled telling potential employers in prior years: “I can guarantee you that these people (the inmates) are coming to work.”

Commissioners Chair­man Bruce Erb said that based on the current economy, the timing seems right to pursue the creation of more work release opportunities for inmates. Perhaps the state’s Workforce Develop­ment effort could provide some help, Erb said.

A successful work release program will benefit many, Milliron said, including the county, which could see an increase in inmate payments toward cost and fines and other payments.

But public safety cannot be compromised, the judge stressed.

Tomassetti said he wasn’t sure when PennDOT will ask for inmates to be scheduled for litter detail along state-owned highways. But the county remains committed, he said.

PennDOT crews last week finished seven miles of road pavement painting near the convention center, using paint with glass beads for higher reflectivity.

“There have been a number of concerns raised over the past few years about the lack of visible traffic lane lines on Convention Center Boulevard and Drive,” Tomassetti said. “Particu­lar­ly if you drove there at night, the painted lines were faint at best.”

In 2017, the Blair County Convention Center and Sports Facilities Authority asked the county to consider installing lights along Convention Center Boule­vard and Convention Center Drive. But commissioners backed away from the option, questioning the need for it and the projected expense of $927,000.

Tomassetti recognized David Krammerer, highway maintenance manager who administers the Agility Program on behalf of PennDOT District 9, for working with county personnel to arrange the exchange of services.

In the future, Tomassetti said the county may be interested in working with PennDOT, also through the Agility Program, to arrange for road sealing work on Convention Center Boule­vard and Convention Center Drive. Both roads have developed “cracking,” which creates an “alligator skin” appearance. Without attention, that condition is expected to deteriorate.

PennDOT created the Agility Program in January 1996 so it and other governmental entities, including counties and municipalities, could exchange services for the benefit of both.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.