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3 of 10 Westmoreland inmates addicted to drugs, warden says

| Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, 11:12 p.m.

Three of 10 inmates who enter the Westmoreland County jail are addicted to drugs, Warden John Walton said.

The drug abuse that officials call epidemic in Westmoreland County — resulting in 92 overdose deaths last year — has affected the inmate population at the jail, which hit a high-water mark this month, the warden said.

A series of drug arrests last week that resulted in 30 additional inmates entering the jail caused the population to spike, according to the warden.

Walton on Tuesday told the county's jail board that 643 inmates were housed there. The facility's capacity is 701 inmates.

“We already double-bunk, so there's no additional space,” he said. He said jail officials will try to divert some inmates elsewhere but not look for additional housing.

If the population continues to rise, the booking area can accommodate some inmates and temporary cots would be set up in the gymnasium, Walton said.

A permanent solution would be to better manage inmates by placing them in diversionary programs, he said.

“We need to do a better job and looking at inmates' charges and seeing if their bonds can be lowered,” the warden said. “Some of their bonds are extravagant.”

County officials started to look at solutions to a crowding situation in 2006, when the jail averaged nearly 600 inmates a day.

Walton said the inmate population in 2006 reached 641, but the number dropped almost immediately, and plans to address crowding were dropped.

Inmate population continued to decline until 2010, but has risen steadily since then. Last year, the jail averaged 594 inmates a day.

The cost of housing inmates has increased because many need medical attention, Walton said.

He told the jail board that 30 percent of new inmates are drug-dependent and need to go through a detox program, either in the jail or in a hospital setting.

In addition, 40 percent of all new inmates are prescribed psychiatric drugs, Walton said.

“When they come to prison, we have a very difficult time getting mental health treatment for them,” he said. “Hopefully we'll get them the help they need.”

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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