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Warden: Jail OT may end in black

Prison’s $26.4M spending plan depends, in part, on holiday OT, Joseph Piazza tells board.

WILKES-BARRE – Luzerne County prison Warden Joseph Piazza said he’s hopeful the facility will end the year under budget for 2009 thanks in part to a reduction in overtime and the cost to house inmates at other institutions.

As of Nov. 30, the prison had spent about $23.1 million of its $26.4 million budget, or 88 percent, Piazza told members of the county prison board Monday.

Piazza said he’s cautiously optimistic he will end the year in the black, but that will depend on the amount of overtime he has to pay in December, which is typically higher due to holidays and vacations.

The bottom line has been helped by significant reductions in money spent to house inmates at other prisons. In 2008, the prison paid $671,730 to other prisons, compared to just $258,007 in 2009 – a 61 percent decrease. The reduction is more impressive when compared to 2007, when the prison spent $1.5 million to house inmates elsewhere.

Overtime costs have also decreased significantly. Piazza said he expects to spend about $600,000 on overtime this year. That compares to $724,532 in 2008 and $872,045 in 2007. In other years that figure has been more than $1 million.

The reduction in the number of inmates housed elsewhere has come even though the total prison population has remained relatively steady.

For instance, in September 2007 the total population was 893 inmates, of which 130 were housed at other institutions. As of Nov. 30 this year, the population was 824 inmates, of which seven were housed at other institutions. The total population includes inmates housed at the main facility, work release and minimal offenders units, plus the miscellaneous count, which includes persons in facilities such as drug or mental health centers and home confinement.

Piazza and assistant business manager Jackie Grimes said the reduction is due in part to upgrades that transformed the minimal offender’s unit into a medium security facility, allowing additional classifications of inmates to be housed there. The addition of drug court and other alternative sentencing programs has also helped decrease the in-house population, they said.

As for overtime, Piazza said prison managers have been extra vigilant in scheduling guards and in trying to reduce abuses of sick time and other leave.

“We’ve called people in when there is abuse or a pattern of sick leave before and after days off or after a holiday. If we feel there is abuse, we take them to task and make them accountable,” Piazza said.

In other business Monday, the prison board voted to approve the purchase of three new prisoner transport vehicles at a total cost of $71,180.

Piazza said vehicles currently used for transport all have high mileage and are in extremely poor condition. The new vehicles will be paid for from profits made from the prison commissary, which is totally funded by purchases of convenience items, such as toiletries and snacks that inmates make.

The board also took the following administrative actions:

• Terminated correctional officer John Gonda. Gonda pleaded guilty on Dec. 10 to taking part in a $3.6 million drug distribution ring based in Ashley.

• Approved requests to submit requests for proposals for inmate health care insurance, liability insurance and pre-trial release services.

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