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Belle Vernon graduate builds career in Maryland

| Saturday, June 18, 2011

For Matthew Biddle, the pros of working in a prison setting far outweigh the cons.

The 28-year-old Rostraver Township native is responsible for judging the conduct of several inmates at the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown, Md.

"I've dealt with some bad, bad stuff," he said. "You meet some bizarre individuals."

Biddle graduated in 2001 from Belle Vernon Area High School, where he was an all-conference center for the football team.

Biddle was also a standout lineman at Waynesburg University, where he met his wife of five years, Sarah. After college, the couple decided to relocate.

They moved to Hagerstown, where Sarah found a job as a language arts teacher at Crestwood Middle School in Frederick.

With a degree in criminal justice administration, Matthew Biddle began working at training center as a correctional officer, a position he held for one year.

For the last five years, he has been a correctional case management specialist.

"It's a misleading title, because you hear case management and you think social work," Biddle said. "I'm assigned a group of inmates, and I adjust inmate security levels. We evaluate all their good conduct credits.

"They don't usually get to come in front of me too much. They're generally a lot nicer to me, because they want things from me. I give or take good conduct credits."

The inmates are granted privileges for good behavior.

Biddle also has a hand in the parole process.

"We also do parole recommendations," he said. "Basically, the way parole works in the state of Maryland is case management makes a recommendation, and then there's a parole hearing. Then, the commissioner makes the final decision on parole."

Biddle said he has seen some inmates improve their outlook on life while incarcerated.

But most of the prisoners don't seem to be ready to reform, he added.

"It's always nice when you can see change, but that change seems to be few and far between," Biddle said. "With a lot of them, the recidivism rate is way high right now. If you're seeing someone is not progressing through the system, you have the opportunity to keep the public faith by keeping them in jail."

For the last four years, Biddle has been in charge of an inmate-run closed-circuit news broadcast at the prison that has been featured in newspapers and on television news programs.

Three inmates known for good behavior edit copy, film the show and serve as reporters.

Biddle said news about the prison's operation is better received by the inmates when it is provided by other prisoners.

"The warden and security chief send me e-mails that the inmates then report on," Biddle said of the broadcast.

"We use it as a security tool. I see a value in it as far as decreasing tensions and keeping it a little bit more securely-run institution."

Biddle said he is happy with his career.

"I'm planning on sticking with it a little while. The next jobs above mine are appointed positions within the state," he said. "I'm in a 30-year retirement position right now where I've got a long ways to go."

Job security is just as much of an issue in Maryland as it is in Pennsylvania, Biddle said.

"The last couple of years have been furlough years," he said of the prison. "I had 10 furlough days here, so that was 10 days unpaid. I guess that's better than complete layoffs."

Biddle said his job has been dangerous at times, especially when he was a correctional officer.

"There was one major incident I was involved in where inmates were stabbing each other," he said. "It wasn't scary until after the fact, when you're writing the report, and you're coming down from the adrenaline rush.

"It was three inmates that were fighting. It was a gang-related dispute in the rec hall in the housing unit. I remember my parents praying they didn't want me to be a correctional officer for too long because of the safety issues."

Biddle is the son of Robert Biddle, of Rostraver Township, who runs Belle Vernon Chiropractic in North Belle Vernon with his wife, Sarah.

Matthew Biddle's trips to the Mid-Mon Valley usually involve visits to Belle Vernon Chiropractic.

"That's what kept the entire football team on the field. Everybody that played football would go in and my dad would take care of them," Biddle said of his high school and college teammates.

"I see a chiropractor down here, and then I see my dad twice a month. Growing up, I was never sick. I never missed a football game or anything like that. I wish people realized the benefits of (chiropractic care) a little more."

Biddle is an avid Pittsburgh sports fan. His favorite team is the Steelers.

He and his wife have a 2-year-old daughter, Ella, and a son on the way.

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