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Juvenile prisoners present issues for jails

| Monday, April 21, 2014, 11:21 p.m.

The arrest of 16-year-old Alex Hribal for his alleged knife rampage at Franklin Regional Senior High School on April 9 has Westmoreland County officials concerned that the prison is ill-prepared to deal with juveniles charged as adults.

Almost immediately after Hribal's arrest for slashing and stabbing 19 students and a security guard, a court order was signed to transfer the teen to the county juvenile detention center in Hempfield.

Officials said a federal law, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, requires jails to keep juveniles completely segregated from adults while incarcerated.

Warden John Walton said on Monday he does not have space available to meet the requirements of the law under regulations adopted in May 2012.

“I don't want to be in violation of the law, no matter how stupid I think it is,” Walton said following a meeting of the county's prison board.

Hribal, a sophomore, is charged with four counts of attempted homicide, 21 counts of aggravated assault and one count of possession of a weapon on school property.

He may have to be housed at the county prison for a short period of time if he eventually is convicted in adult court, Walton said. If the case reached that point, he would be awaiting transfer into the state prison system, officials said.

County officials have no plans to create space forjuveniles in the prison in Hempfield. The county has opted to transfer all juveniles out of the facility and into the Regional Youth Services Center.

Last week, the jail sought and received permission to move two teens, ages 16 and 17, who are charged with robbery, to the juvenile detention center. Both are charged as adults.

In the past, the jail has slowly integrated teens with the adult inmates.

“I could put them in a place for 23 of 24 hours a day, but that doesn't put us in compliance,” Walton said. District Attorney John Peck told prison board members that it could be a year or longer before Hribal's case is completed.

Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey is expected to request that Hribal's case be transferred to juvenile court.

“There is going to be a psychological evaluation, and it will take time to gather school records before it is determined if he is tried in juvenile court,” Peck said. “That could take at least six months.”

His preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 30 at the courthouse.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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