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Prison working to lower numbers

Inmates transferred, parole resolutions expedited amid fears of coronavirus spread

The inmate population at the Blair County Prison has dropped from 377 to 296 within a week because of efforts to lessen crowded conditions in light of the coronavirus.

In a facility that is regularly crowded and typically houses about 350 daily, the drop to 296 reflects the prison’s lowest population in months.

County leaders on Tuesday named last week’s transfer of inmates to the state prison system, and faster resolutions for parole and probation violators as factors contributing to the drop and bail modifications.

“I can say that the court system, from top to bottom, has been extremely helpful to us in this time,” Warden Abbie Tate said Tuesday.

Before transferring inmates to the state prison system, the county prison awaits sentencing orders from county judges and approvals from the state Department of Corrections. With those in hand, the county prison was able to transfer inmates last week, while another group is waiting for transfer, Tate said.

That may or may not happen, depending on the state’s response to a call from the 11,000-member state corrections officers union which recommends halting transfers between county and state prisons because of the coronavirus.

“The governor has called for all non-essential movement to halt and this isn’t essential,” union president Larry Blackwell said. “And the governor has the authority to shut down the movement of these prisoners. The counties, the state, let’s just freeze everything until we figure out what’s going on.”

It would be an inconvenience to the county, but their concerns are understandable, Tate said.

So far, no coronavirus cases have been reported in the state prison system, with multiple locations housing roughly 45,000 inmates and employing about 16,000, prison and union officials said.

While no coronavirus cases were reported as of Tuesday in Blair County, cases have been identified in neighboring Cambria, Centre and Clearfield counties.

Another factor contributing to the county prison’s population drop, President Judge Elizabeth Doyle said, is that the county parole and probation office has been faster in the pursuit of options for those incarcerated for violating their parole/probation conditions.

With the office closed for in-person contact, she said the officers, while still maintaining contact with the people they supervise, have had more time to focus on identifying non-incarceration options, including supervision and treatment options.

As for bail modifications, Doyle authorized six on Monday, including one for Travis C. Wilson, an Altoona man facing about 50 felony and misdemeanor charges in connection with an alleged child sexual abuse.

Wilson was jailed in August when his bail was set at $500,000 cash. In February, his bail was changed to 10 percent cash — $5,000 — which he didn’t meet. Doyle, after learning of another court order forbidding him to have contact with the children, lowered Wilson’s bail to 2 percent cash or $1,000. That was posted Tuesday.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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