Blair prison building staff

Hiring process expected to take six months

HOLLIDAYSBURG — With money budgeted this year to add 13 full-time corrections officers at the Blair County Prison, efforts to move in that direction have started, prison leaders say.

Job candidates are coming in multiple times a week for interviews, Warden Abbie Tate told the Blair County Prison Board on Thursday during an update on staffing levels and training.

The latest numbers show the prison has 74 full-time corrections officers.

It also has 21 full-time corrections officer positions that are vacant because county commissioners agreed in December to budget $544,000 so 13 more full-time corrections officers could be hired. Commissioners endorsed the additional spending based on a recommendation in a 2018 Department of Corrections study that has yet to be released to the public.

But in aiming to reach full staffing, prison administrators advised the board that they’re taking steps incrementally.

“We’ve learned from past experience that we just can’t put anyone in a full-time position because that doesn’t always work,” Tate told the board.

In prior staffing reports, it wasn’t unusual to hear of corrections officers resigning shortly after being hired because another job became available or because they didn’t like the work.

The hiring process seems to work better, Tate said, by offering full-time corrections officer positions to fill-in officers — ones who regularly fill vacant shifts — because they’re familiar with working inside the prison and have been through some training.

“They’re the ones who will stay on the job,” Tate said.

Commissioner Ted Beam Jr., who has been elected to chair the prison board, told Tate that he liked the description of the hiring strategy and intends to support a forthcoming request to hire more fill-in officers.

The county Salary Board has a cap of 15 fill-in officers at the prison. But in light of the hiring effort, Tate said she will ask for the cap to be removed temporarily, then later restored.

Deputy Warden James McMahon and Deputy Warden James Eckard, who are working on the staffing levels, estimated that the hiring process for the expanded staff will take about six months.

“But that depends on how things go,” Eckard said.

“We are getting a lot of applications,” Tate said. “Maybe more than we’ve ever had before.”

Eckard said he thinks staff morale has improved because of the ongoing hiring efforts.

“They can see the numbers starting to increase,” Eckard said. “And that’s having a positive effect.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.