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County inmates may resume mowing program

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County Prison inmates may soon resume mowing local cemeteries, an effort initiated last year that drew praise and thanks.

Warden Abbie Tate told the prison board Thursday that despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, she thinks the program could resume with protective measures.

While the board agreed, Chairman A.C. Stickel directed Tate to have county Director of Public Safety Mark Taylor review the proposed measures to see if he has concerns.

“I think it’s important to try to continue (the program),” Stickel said. “But I don’t want to go backward.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic developed, several measures have been undertaken to keep COVID-19 from getting into or spreading through the prison.

Those efforts include extra cleaning, directing staff and inmates to wear masks, fewer transports to and from the facility and a reduction of number of inmates. Reports reviewed Thursday show the prison’s daily inmate population reached a high of 386 in March. It was down to 232 as of Thursday.

Five or six inmates were tested for COVID-19, but all results were negative, Tate said.

For the mowing program, she recommended involving inmates from the same housing area, accompanied by the same corrections officer who has daily contact with those inmates.

She proposed limiting the inmates to two cemeteries where they could spread out, a move that would allow them to observe social distancing recommendations.

When Stickel asked about transportation, Tate referenced a large van that’s available and that would be cleaned after every use.

“It sounds like an excellent idea,” Commissioner Amy Webster said.

Former Blair County Commissioner Ted Beam Jr., who chaired the prison board until December when he finished his term in office, last year encouraged the prison administration and inmates, on a volunteer basis, to engage in cemetery mowing and trimming around headstones.

Because last year’s wet weather generated rapid and excessive growth that hid headstones, people passing by the cemeteries noticed the difference as the inmates made progress. Tate recalled that accomplishment and the recognition.

“I have a drawer full of letters thanking us for last year,” Tate said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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