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Portion of Westmoreland prisoners' cash could go to crime victims

| Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

The Westmoreland County Prison Board has authorized tapping a new resource to secure restitution owed to crime victims.

The board on Monday unanimously approved an idea proposed by Clerk of Courts Bryan Kline that will permit county prison officials to deduct money from personal accounts of inmates to pay toward their fines, court costs and restitution. Deductions can be taken only from prisoners who are formally sentenced.

“I think restitution to crime victims should be a priority,” Kline told the board.

Warden John R. Walton said the prison currently deducts 50 percent of the deposits from the personal prison accounts of adjudicated inmates to reimburse the county for costs associated with their incarceration.

“What we'll do now is take 20 percent of that 50 percent and designate it for fines, court costs and restitution, still leaving us about 30 percent for room and board,” Walton said.

Family members often set up accounts at the prison for inmates to spend at the commissary, prison officials said.

Deductions for sentenced prisoners are automatically taken from the accounts.

Walton estimated that the prison general fund has benefited by about $200,000 a year from the room-and-board assessment.

It will now collect about $120,000 annually, while about $80,000 will be forwarded to Kline's office to pay fines, court costs and restitution.

The proposal must receive the approval of Common Pleas Court judges, according to Sheriff Jonathan Held, who chairs the prison board.

It likely will take effect after Jan. 1.

Last spring, Kline was appointed to a statewide task force, funded by the state Commission on Crime and Delinquency, to study how to improve the restitution process for crime victims.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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