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New prison fences aim to save money

Rich Cholodofsky
| Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Westmoreland County Prison officials hope that $12,900 fences will guard against hundreds of thousands of dollars in future medical bills.

Warden John Walton told the county prison board on Monday that construction of fences on second-floor balconies in three units of the jail should begin sometime this month and be completed by mid-July.

Officials conceived the idea last month, after an inmate leaped from a 12-foot-high balcony and crashed into a set of metal tables. It was the second incident in the past year in which an inmate attempted suicide by leaping from a balcony.

Earlier this year, the county received a $420,000 medical bill for an inmate who failed in an attempted suicide last summer by jumping from that same balcony.

A third jumper, described by Walton as a "copycat," was thwarted last month.

Prison board members yesterday signed off on the fence purchase after reviewing three proposals that ranged from a low of $12,900 to a high of about $30,000.

"It's cheaper to put up a fence for $12,000 than pay for a $400,000 hospital bill," Walton said.

The floor-to-ceiling fence will be erected in three units, those that house new inmates, special needs detainees and prisoners classified as disciplinary problems. Six other units at the jail will not have fenced-in balconies.

County officials have struggled for the past year with skyrocketing medical expenses that resulted from inmates who have attempted suicide.

So far, the county has avoided having any medical bills from last month's suicide attempt. Just minutes after inmate Tadd A. Naylor, of North Belle Vernon, hit the floor, officials requested and received from a county judge a furlough for the inmate.

Naylor was released to the hospital in an effort to hold him responsible for his own medical costs. Walton said Naylor, who was seriously injured in his fall, has since been released from the hospital and sent to a halfway house.

A second inmate was furloughed late last month when she became ill after ingesting more than 100 pills smuggled into the jail, Walton said. She, too, has not returned to the county jail.

"If things are self-inflicted, I can't see why the county should pay for it," Walton said.

"The people who are being furloughed are the ones with minor charges who aren't dangerous to anyone."

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