Rise in Blair prison population linked to female inmates

Corrections staff increased to deal with continued growth

HOLLIDAYSBURG — The inmate population at the Blair County Prison has been climbing for a year now and is showing no sign of declining.

May’s population, so far, is averaging around 332 inmates, slightly higher than April’s 327 average and slightly lower than March’s 342 average.

But the prison’s average inmate population for May 2018 was 280, and it didn’t go above 300 until September when it hit 309, prison population reports show.

The increase in female inmates continues to be a contributing factor to higher populations, Warden Abbie Tate told the county prison board Thursday.

District Attorney Richard Consiglio identified that factor by pointing to a prison population report reflecting female inmate numbers and their race. It showed 70 white women and five black or African American women.

Tate, who went to work in the prison in 2005 as a corrections officer, said she has observed the growth of the female inmate population.

“There weren’t that many when I started, but now, it seems we can’t get below 60,” she said.

As for the overall population, Deputy Warden Jayme McMahon said the reports are showing that inmates are regularly being released from the county facility or transferred to another institution.

“But they’re coming in as fast as we’re getting them out,” McMahon said.

In the meantime, the prison has increased its staff of corrections officers and now employs 92 full-time officers, 15 fill-in officers and is in the process of hiring three more full-time officers for a staff of 110.

Commissioners, when planning the 2019 budget, set aside money to hire 13 full-time corrections officers in response to a state Department of Corrections report that identified understaffing as a safety concern.

At the time of the report, the county prison was operating with 74 full-time corrections officers and 15 fill-in officers for a total staff of 89.

Tate credited McMahon and Deputy Warden James Eckard for their efforts in the hiring process, which she said have been ongoing since the beginning of the year.

“There were weeks when they were interviewing (job candidates) every day of the week,” she said.

Hiring more corrections officers is also expected to be another step toward curbing overtime costs. The latest report, for this year’s pay periods through the end of April, show $253,304 in overtime expense. That number includes $50,370 paid in overtime to prison staff for the two pay periods in April. The county’s 2019 budget set aside $800,000 for prison overtime.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.