Officials say it will

help alleviate

overcrowding at jail

To help address the overcrowding at the Bradford County Correctional Facility, Bradford County is implementing a supervised bail program, Bradford County officials announced Thursday.

Under the program, certain defendants who cannot afford to post their bail will be released to live in their homes while their case makes its way through the courts, Bradford County jail Warden Donald Stewart said.

While living at home, these defendants will be supervised by county bail supervisors, and they must abide by certain conditions, which could include having to report to the jail a certain number of times a week or being placed on electronic monitoring, Stewart said.

"We're trying put more people out on bail, if their case allows it," Stewart said, explaining the purpose of the program.

"This is a big deal" for the county, Doug McLinko, chairman of the Bradford County commissioners, said of the new program. "I'm pretty excited about this."

The program will be "a great way" to help address the overcrowding at the jail, Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller said.

The implementation of the program means the county will not have to establish a day reporting center, or "day jail," which the commissioners had been considering implementing to address the overcrowding, McLinko said.

Only those inmates who wished to be placed in the supervised bail program would be placed in the program, Stewart said.

The defendant would still have the option of posting bail instead of participating in the program, he added.

Both a magisterial district judge and staff from the jail would need to approve a defendant's participation in the supervised bail program, the warden said.

It will be "non-violent sorts" who will be accepted into the supervised bail program, Miller said. Miller noted that all participants in the supervised bail program are eligible to be released into the community anyway, as long as they can post bail. "They just can't come up with the money" to post their bail, or to pay a bail bondsman to bail them out, he said.

The Bradford County commissioners have approved the implementation of the program, the warden said.

The county is in the process of hiring two employees, called bail supervisors, to run the program, Stewart said. The bail supervisors will operate out of an office at the jail, he said.

The bail supervisors and the program itself will be supervised by the jail's warden and deputy warden, Stewart said.

The level of supervision that a particularly defendant would receive while in the program would be tailored to the defendant, Stewart said.

For example, defendants who are considered a relatively low risk would have to report to the jail a certain number of times a week, would have to undergo drug and alcohol testing, and if they are working, would have to turn in proof to the county that they are continuing to hold the job, he said.

Defendants in the program who are considered more of a risk would be placed under the same type of supervision as offenders who are on probation or parole, which is a more intensive type of supervision, he said. Bail supervisors would check on these higher-risk defendants at their home and work place, and they could also be placed on electronic monitoring, the warden said. These higher-risk defendants would also have to undergo drug and alcohol testing, he said.

Preserving jobs

The supervised bail program allows defendants to keep their jobs, which will allow them to avoid getting into worse financial difficulty than they may already be in, the warden said. It is hoped that eligible inmates would be released from the jail into the supervised bail program within 24 to 48 hours of arriving at the prison, he added.

If a defendant fails to abide by the terms of the supervised bail program, he or she could be brought before the Bradford County president judge for a bail revocation hearing, Stewart said. Following the hearing, the judge could decide to remove the defendant from the supervised bail program and order the defendant incarcerated in lieu of bail, Stewart said.

Bradford County's supervised bail program is modeled after Lycoming County's supervised bail program, which has been in existence since 1988, Stewart said.

The Lycoming County program has been very successful, according to Warden Stewart said.

Lycoming County Sheriff Mark Lusk is satisfied with his county's supervised bail program, Bradford County Sheriff Clinton "C.J." Walters said.

As of a couple of months ago, Lycoming County, which has a 300-bed jail, had 85 defendants enrolled its supervised bail program, according to Stewart and Walters.

Lycoming County's supervised bail program has four employees and a supervisor, Walters said. One of the reasons why Lycoming County has more staff than Bradford County's program will have is that there are more components to the Lycoming County program, so the staff have additional responsibilities, Stewart said.

While there are a lot of other supervised bail programs elsewhere in the United States, Lycoming County's is one of the few that are run by a jail, he said. Most supervised bail programs are run by a county probation department, he said.

Over the last few years, the Bradford County jail has experienced an overcrowding problem, which has required the county to pay to house excess inmates in other counties' jails.

Warden Stewart announced Thursday that, for the first time this year, Bradford County is no longer housing inmates at other jails.

Currently, Bradford County has 186 inmates, 176 of whom are at the Bradford County jail and the remaining 10 at facilities that the county does not have to pay fees for, including inmates who are temporarily housed at other jails while they attend a court hearing outside Bradford County, or inmates who are temporarily housed at another facility for medical reasons, Stewart said. The Bradford County jail has a capacity of 207 inmates.

Decreased local activity in the gas industry is contributing to a drop in Bradford County's inmate population, said McLinko, who added that in the past, at least 6 to 7 percent of the county's inmate population came from the gas industry.

But McLinko said he expects the county's inmate population to rise in the future.

"With all the drug problems we see, and with the influx of people in our county, I think we will see spikes (in Bradford County's inmate population) over the long term, from time to time," McLinko said.

The supervised bail program will help the county to "alleviate" those spikes, he added.

The local bath salts problem, which has been cited as a reason for the overcrowding, has not decreased, according to Bradford County Court Judge Maureen Beirne. "If anything, it's increasing," she said.

Stewart also said that local magisterial district judges have told him in the past that they wished there was some supervision of certain inmates while they were out on bail. The supervised bail program will help to address that issue, he said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.