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Wyoming County Commissioners Question Psych Evaluations at Prison

By D.C. Koviack

 On Tuesday morning at their regular meeting, the commissioners and the Wyoming County Prison Board questioned the alacrity with which inmates in need of psychological attention are evaluated once they are booked into the county prison. The question had been brought up when one prisoner in particular had to wait for nearly two weeks before he was evaluated and sent to a mental health facility.

Tony Black of Community Counseling Services (CCS) addressed the board and explained that during the time in question, the county’s psychiatrist, Dr. Sharma, had been on a two-week vacation and was unavailable. Citing a lack of resources in the area for psychiatrists to perform the mental health evaluations on prisoners, Black said that although the situation had been unfortunate, it was remedied as soon as the psychiatrist returned.

“We don’t have a backup psychiatrist,” he admitted. Although some on the board appeared to think this had not been an isolated incident, this was the only issue brought up of the kind. Black did say, and the warden agreed, that CCS does respond “24/7” to crises, but may not always have the resources for specialist appointments.

In other news, Warden Mickey Ameigh told the prison board that he is still working out details on the new requirements from Act 22. This is a new law requiring health care providers to charge only medicare/medicaid rates to inmates. Ameigh admitted there were some areas of the Act which are still unclear, but added that they are working to understand them and make compliance a reality. Ameigh also told the board that he is considering changing the vendor for the commissary supplies. “It used to be just toiletries and junk food,” he explained. However, he said that he is now thinking of using a vendor who can supply other items like t- shirts, underwear, socks and sneakers. At the moment, these latter items may be brought into the jail for inmates by family and friends. They are inspected by prison staff before being released to the inmates, but on Ameigh told the board that these items are still vehicles for contraband. He said that requiring inmates to obtain these things from an outside vendor would, he hoped, cut down on that.

County Public Defender Deborah Albert-Heise asked if this proposed system could present a financial hardship for some inmates who would have to purchase new items rather than use things—like underwear—that they already have at home. Ameigh’s response was that although he hasn’t worked out all the details, allowances would be made for indigent inmates who could not afford to purchase these items.

At the conclusion of the monthly prison board, the bi-weekly commissioners’ meeting convened with a reminder to all municipalities in Wyoming County to get their Liquid Fuels Money requests in to the courthouse by the end of the year. Each municipality is allowed a portion of the county’s Liquid Fuels money; this practice is followed in very few counties in Pennsylvania, with most funds remaining on the county level rather than being disbursed to the townships and boroughs.

Contract negotiations for the management staff of the county have also begun. A proposal for some changes to the contract, including a five percent pay raise next year, was presented. Management representatives and the commissioners will meet again in two weeks to discuss the matter further. Managers are also asking for a longevity bonus similar to what union employees receive. Current management staff in the county is salaried between $19,000 and $60,900 a year.

In other business, Commissioner Judy Mead will testify Wednesday at a Flood Mitigation and Hazardous Mitigation hearing in Harrisburg. The hearing is that of the PA Senate’s Sub Committee on Flood Mitigation. The county has also submitted its letter of intent to the Army Corps of Engineers for them to come and evaluate and then do projects in the county. The projects will largely involve cleaning debris from streams so that future heavy rains will not result in the catastrophic flooding of this past September. Many fear that without such attention, streams will be more destructive the next time they flood, and more roads and bridges as well as homes and communities will be lost.

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