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Westmoreland deputies to be assigned to inmates taken to hospital

| Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, 11:10 p.m.

Sheriff's deputies will be immediately dispatched to Westmoreland County hospitals to guard inmates taken in for treatment.

Jail Warden John Walton announced the new policy on Monday during a meeting of the county prison board.

Officials said the tightened security will ease public safety concerns.

“We got it all worked out. Public safety is our No. 1 issue,” said Commissioner Charles Anderson, a member of the prison board. “Any time there is a hole in the system, we need to take it very seriously.”

Officials last month became alarmed when reports surfaced that inmates were being guarded at hospitals by unarmed corrections officers.

Sheriff's deputies are responsible for guarding inmates out of the jail, but Walton said there were some instances when his staff was at the hospital before deputies arrived.

Sheriff Jonathan Held, also a member of the prison board, said that during May and June, nine inmates were taken to the hospital.

In two of those cases, he said, the inmates arrived at the hospital before the deputies.

Held said his review revealed that in two-thirds of the incidents, his deputies arrived at the hospital at least 15 minutes before the inmates.

Emergency dispatchers at the 911 center will coordinate calls so sheriff's deputies are immediately alerted to inmate transfers to hospitals, officials said.

“This definitely won't be an issue going forward,” Held said.

Meanwhile, Walton said the inmate population at the jail continues to rise. For the first several weeks of August, the jail averaged 606 inmates at the facility each day, up from 566 daily inmates a year ago.

However, the population of female inmates has decreased.

A month ago, the jail was overcrowded with female inmates, forcing some of the women to sleep on cots.

The jail can hold up to 107 women.

Walton said there were 84 women incarcerated in the Hempfield lockup.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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