By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — As warden of the Northumberland County Prison, Roy Johnson may soon have full power to suspend employees without permission from the prison board.
That board on Wednesday temporarily granted Johnson full authority to suspend employees who are breaking jail policy.
Steve Bridy, Northumberland County commissioner and prison board chairman, suggested directing the county solicitor to draft a copy of a policy that would give the warden permanent authority.
Such a policy would reduce the number of special meetings called to address emergency situations.
The board can now wait until its monthly meeting to discuss issues.
“We now won’t have to meet every week,” Bridy said. “The nature of the prison is you will have people who are incarcerated who will do things to instigate an assault or a blatant assault, and if this occurs, he needs to have the authority. Otherwise we would have to advertise for special meetings and keep spending money.
Bridy said the board will ultimately have the power to overturn any decision made by the warden.
Commissioner Vinny Clausi also told board members he wants to move forward with upgrading surveillance cameras and add a new thumbprint system that tracks the movements of staff.
“This way we can watch to see who is coming and going,” Clausi said. “It will just protect everyone.”
Bridy and Clausi have been pushing for new and more cameras in the prison after two $2 million lawsuits were filed by inmates who claim they were beaten by guards.
One of the guards identified in the lawsuit has since been fired, but the reason for his termination is not clear.
Board members agreed. A search has begun to research prices.
“It doesn’t matter what it will cost at this point,” Clausi said. “We will find the money because we can’t keep going on like this and having lawsuit after lawsuit and incident after incident. We must move forward with this and we must make sure that our staff, prisoners and residents of the county are protected at all times.”
Johnson also informed the board that three employees were terminated, one of which was William Reber, who is listed in the two $2 million lawsuits. The board would not comment on the termination of the employees but said the issues were all unrelated.
The lockup is looking to hire part-time guards to replace the terminated correctional officers, Johnson said.
Northumberland County President Judge Robert Sacavage spoke briefly about the plan to expand house arrest as an early parole program. Sacavage said the program will be available to nonviolent offenders.