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Wiccan services allowed in Fayette prison

| Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, 10:13 p.m.

A Fayette County woman will be permitted to hold Wiccan services in the county prison chapel, according to prison board members who directed the warden to accommodate the woman's request.

Kathryn Jones of Uniontown told the board Wednesday she has “15 years' leadership as a Wiccan.”

Wicca identifies itself as witchcraft, an “old religion” that seeks harmony with all things in the natural world, according to the website of The Church and School of Wiccan.

Jones said she had been permitted to conduct services in the prison chapel in the past, but recent requests have been denied.

“I've asked for months for a visit in the chapel,” Jones said.

Jones acknowledged she was allowed to conduct a 20-minute “clergy visit” by phone last week, but she alleged the call was disrupted by “guards screaming and cursing in the background.”

Warden Brian Miller said clergy who want to use the chapel make arrangements to do so through the prison chaplain. Miller said the chaplain advises him of such requests prior to approval.

Miller said scheduling conflicts arise because the chapel is used for various purposes, including religious services and inmate visitation.

Angela Zimmerlink and Vincent Zapotosky, county commissioners who serve on the prison board, said Jones' requests are to be granted, provided her requested times do not interfere with previously scheduled uses of the room.

To ensure she has access, they advised Jones to put her requests in writing and to select several different dates and times for the services.

“We all have a right to worship the God of our choice,” Zapotosky said.

In response to a separate concern, Jones discussed regarding a specific inmate's medication. Miller said he looked into the matter and determined it was unfounded. Noting medical privacy issues, the board declined to discuss the matter in detail in public.

Jones questioned overall practices surrounding use of prescription drugs at the jail.

Zimmerlink said one of the county's solicitors will be directed to review the prison's policy regarding inmate medications to ensure proper procedures are in place and followed.

District Attorney Jack Heneks endorsed the recent decision to build a new, $32 million jail.

Heneks said the additional space in a new prison will allow for the introduction of various programs aimed at curbing recidivism, including those for drug and alcohol treatment.

Heneks said drug and alcohol abuse are evident in 80 percent of the cases he handles annually. Addiction leads to crimes such as burglaries, robberies and an increase in retail thefts, he said.

“I see the concern and fear of Fayette County residents about how drugs have taken over many people's lives,” Heneks said. “Those are the fears and concerns, and we need to be able to address that.”

A new prison and the programs it will accommodate won't be a “panacea” for cutting down on crime,” Heneks said. It “is a step in the right direction.”

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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