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Warden: More than 70 percent of new inmates in Westmoreland jail addicted to drugs

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, July 31, 2017, 3:24 p.m.
The entrance to the Westmoreland County Prison photographed on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016.
Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
The entrance to the Westmoreland County Prison photographed on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016.

More than 70 percent of new inmates at Westmoreland County Prison in June needed detox treatment for drug addiction, continuing to put a strain on the corrections system's ability to properly care for them.

“It's absolutely alarming,” Commissioner Chairman Gina Cerilli said of the growing number.

Warden John Walton said Monday during a meeting of the county prison board that drug dependency remains a critical issue for jail officials because most inmates enter with an addiction to heroin or other opiates.

New inmates are responsible for telling jail officials if they are addicted to drugs when they enter the facility, Walton said.

While the cost to properly detox inmates is negligible as most undergo in-house screening and supervision in jail, Walton said the real challenge for his staff is to provide enough drug education and prevention programs.

“Our biggest problem is space. We only have a certain amount of space for programing,” Walton said.

Inmates can voluntarily participate in Alcohol Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, overdose prevention classes and sessions with a certified drug-and-alcohol recovery specialist. They also can participate in a six-week court-ordered group session program for drug-and-alcohol abuse education.

The programs are funded through private sources.

About one in six inmates participates in a drug or alcohol program, Walton said.

“The problem is the average stay for sentenced inmates is 135 days, and it's about 42 days (to accommodate) everyone. So not every class is offered while some are here,” Walton said.

Cerilli said the county has no plans to allocate funds for additional drug and alcohol programs for inmates.

“We don't have the funds to pay for it. But if we can find state or federal grants to help, we will do that,” Cerilli said.

The challenges with inmate addiction are forecast to intensify as the facility's population steadily rises.

The inmate population reached 665 Monday. Capacity at the jail is 711 inmates.

Walton said the average inmate population for June was 651, which is a slight increase over the average number at the same time last year. In June 2016, the jail had an average daily count of 634 inmates.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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