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Crowding forces some Westmoreland jail inmates to sleep on cots in gym

| Sunday, July 7, 2013, 11:24 p.m.

Six Westmoreland County jail inmates are bunking on cots in the women's indoor gym because some prisoners must be kept alone in cells, Sheriff Jonathan Held said.

Of the 598 inmates assigned to the jail as of Saturday afternoon, 102 were women, “which is high for females,” Held said. “The female population has been building recently.”

The jail can typically accommodate 100 women, but officials had to dedicate some double-occupancy cells to inmates with disciplinary problems or those on suicide watch, pushing six inmates out of cells and onto the gym cots, said Held, who is chairman of the county prison board.

The board will meet at 10 a.m. Monday at the jail, and officials plan to discuss the issue, Held said.

At the board's June meeting, Warden John Walton told board members that at 615 inmates, the facility was nearing capacity. He warned that if inmate numbers continued to increase, some would have to be housed in areas normally dedicated to booking, inmate labor staff, protective custody and the disciplinary unit.

“The reason we have the cots is because we anticipate that if we do have overflow, that's what we have to do with (the inmates),” said Charles Anderson, chairman of the board of county commissioners. “It's part of the cost of doing business.”

Held and Anderson both said they did not know why the jail's population has been growing during the past few months.

“That's the way it is. I don't know what the reason for that is,” Anderson said.

Held said the issue could resolve itself Monday once judges issue release orders, inmates post bail or some complete their sentence and are released.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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