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Drug busts fill prison to overflowing

Suspects in recent arrests were housed in indoor gymnasium

HOLLIDAYSBURG — The Blair County Prison population climbed to a record 371 inmates after the Feb. 6 roundup of suspected drug dealers from a grand jury investigation into methamphetamine trafficking between Philadelphia and Altoona.

On Thursday, it was down to 349, based on the inmate population report provided to the Blair County Prison Board for review.

“The drug busts came at a bad time for the prison because we were already filled up,” Deputy Warden Jayme McMahon advised the board.

To make room for those arrested on drug charges, the prison turned an indoor gymnasium into a temporary housing unit. From there, the inmates were subsequently moved to other housing areas or released on bail.

“We just got the cots out yesterday,” Warden Abbie Tate said Feb. 12, about a week after police were dispatched with arrest warrants for 17 people accused of roles in the drug-trafficking effort.

McMahon’s report on the prison’s population also showed that the prison is housing a monthly average of 338 inmates, as calculated over the 12-month period since February 2019.

Numbers used in making that calculation show the daily population ranging from a low of 329 to a high of 363 for January and from a low of 345 to a high of 371 for February.

Commissioner Bruce Erb, prison board member, noted the higher inmate population during the first two months is showing up in the prison’s food budget. That’s an area commissioners hoped to reduce this year through the hiring of a kitchen manager with expertise in food service management and ways to cut food costs, perhaps through bulk ordering or other efforts.

Commissioners are expected to hire a kitchen manager soon. Prison board Chairman A.C. Stickel advised the prison board that when recently meeting with the warden, they discussed the most recent candidate interested in the job.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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