In what has become a typical experience, three juveniles charged as adults were housed in a separate block at the Luzerne County Prison Wednesday, said county Correctional Services Division Head Mark Rockovich.
Known as “youthful inmates,” these juveniles can’t be mixed with adults under state law, and the county’s smallest prison block sleeps a dozen, he said.
“That means we have three juvenile inmates taking up 12 beds because I can’t put anyone over 18 on that block,” Rockovich said.
After months of review and negotiation, Rockovich and the county administration have negotiated a contract allowing them to send young inmates to the Chester County Prison in Southeastern Pennsylvania, which has a special section for juveniles charged as adults.
No inmates have been transferred yet.
Chester County would charge $150 a day for each Luzerne inmate lodged there, according to the contract recently signed by county Manager C. David Pedri, which is posted at www.luzernecounty.org.
A few other counties have similar agreements to send their youthful inmates to Chester, online published reports say.
These young inmates are “extremely difficult” to situate at Luzerne County’s prison because the law says they can’t have “sight, sound or physical contact” with adult inmates in sleeping quarters, common spaces and shower areas, according to the two-county memorandum of agreement.
During movement outside of their housing section, prisons must continue to maintain separation between the young and adult inmates or provide direct staff supervision. At the same time, the law encourages prisons to avoid placing youthful inmates in isolation to comply with the requirements and to provide the inmates with daily exercise and special education services, the contract says.
The mandates were aimed at preventing prison rape.
Rockovich said his facility has zero tolerance for sexual abuse and strives for compliance with national standards to prevent, detect and respond to rape under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, known as PREA. The Chester County Prison shares this philosophy, the memorandum says.
Despite the expense, sending young inmates to Chester could save money on the additional supervision and freeing up of bed space for other needs, Rockovich said. The juveniles also may benefit from being in a place that would allow more interaction with others and time outside of cells, he said.
To review weekly
Still, Rockovich said he will review local population statistics weekly before authorizing Chester placements.
Overcrowding at the Water Street prison in Wilkes-Barre has eased due to various initiatives, with about 450 inmates currently in the facility designed for 505, Rockovich said.
Sometimes only a single juvenile inmate is lodged at the county prison, and Rockovich believes the high was six or seven at one time.
“If it makes sense financially and security-wise to transfer them to Chester, we can do it. I’m not looking to waste money,” Rockovich said, noting any juveniles sent to Chester will return here when they turn 18.
This year’s correctional services budget earmarked $275,000 for outside inmate housing, and nothing was spent in that category as of July 31, according to the most recent county budget/finance report.
According to the memorandum with Chester:
The contract would apply to inmates under 18 who are incarcerated or detained in the county prison while under adult court supervision.
Luzerne County must transport inmates to and from Chester, which is 125 miles away, for initial placement and court appearances. If Chester needs the space for its own population, it can require Luzerne County to pick up its inmates within 24 hours.
The determination to charge juveniles as adults is based on the severity of the alleged crime and a juvenile’s criminal history, county officials have said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.