HOLLIDAYSBURG - Eight of 13 telephones that allow inmates at the Blair County Prison to talk to their family members during visiting hours have recently broken, a situation that has upset some of the visitors.
Tina M. Markel of Tyrone, who has a relative in the jail, recently sent a letter to the Mirror complaining that children are upset because they can't talk to a parent due to the failed system. She said the problem has been ongoing.
Prison Warden Michael M. Johnston said Markel also communicated her displeasure with the system to him, leaving messages on his phone.
Johnston said the problem with the phones will soon be fixed, possibly as early as today, but in the meantime he has temporarily extended visiting hours at the prison from five to seven days each week.
Relatives and children coming to visit inmates use a phone system to communicate through a glass partition. The county jail has 13 phones as part of the system.
Johnston said at first a couple of phones fell into disrepair. This week, however, eight of the 13 phones were not working.
The phones are "very old," having been in use for the past 30 years. Johnston said parts are no longer being made.
"They cannot be repaired. ... There's an amplifier in there that doesn't work," he said.
Johnston said he contacted Bettwy Systems of Duncansville, which in turn found a company that could build new phones.
He said installing a whole new system is out of the question, because it would require extensive remodeling of the visitation area.
He expects the new phones to be installed as early as this week.
Johnston noted that each cell block in the prison is designated a time for visitation five days a week - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. People have shown up, expecting to talk to their loved ones, but he said they have become upset that they are required to wait for a lengthy time period because of the few phones available.
To accommodate the demand for visitation, Johnston said he temporarily extended visitation hours to all seven days.
Johnston said it was an unfortunate situation the prison didn't plan for, but he said, "We are bending over backward" to accommodate family members.
Inmates are permitted three one-hour visits a week, he said.
Markel stated the telephone situation upset her because visits to inmates help to keep up their spirits.