Westmoreland County Prison is attempting to address the issue through preparation and support. On Monday, Warden Bryan Kline announced a program with Peerstar LLC of Altoona to take inmates within three months of release and work with them on life skills they will need when they return to the community.
Warden Bryan Kline said Monday at the county prison board meeting, where the agreement was approved. An advantage of this program is that it will continue to help those held in the Hempfield jail “to be reintegrated into the community” after they are free, Kline said.
Westmoreland County Prison Warden Bryan Kline said that as of Monday there are 21 current coronavirus infections at the jail but no additional cases have been reported since late last week. Kline said the last inmate to test positive for the virus was on Dec. 17. “It’s getting better,” Kline said Monday after a meeting of the county’s prison board.
On Monday, Warden Bryan Kline said Wexford Health Services Inc., the county prison’s medical provider, has been granted permission to administer covid-19 vaccinations. Officials see this as a potential way to increase the vaccination rate for county inmates.
The jail has held vaccination clinics every six weeks with doses provided by a local pharmacy. Inmates received the two-dose Pfizer vaccine and as a result some inmates had rejected the shots saying they didn’t expect to be at the jail for their second shot, Kline said.
Kline and the incumbents beat out write-in candidates Danielle Lang (Region I), Malissa Chaplick (Region II) and Anthony Zona (Region III). However, until certified results are tabulated, their exact totals are not known.
Kline said 128 inmates, about 24% of the facility’s population, are fully vaccinated for the coronavirus. Another vaccination clinic for inmates will be conducted in mid October, Kline said.
“I’m currently reviewing all policies, and that’s one that I’m taking a look at,” Kline said.
Warden Bryan Kline said just 13 active cases of the virus remained at the Hempfield lockup, less than a week after the facility saw as many as 29 inmates with new infections.
Inmates have been limited to video visits with friends and family as the coronavirus surged through the community and inside the Hempfield lockup. Warden Bryan Kline said starting June 1, the facility will move to more normal operations with the resumption of several in-house social service programs.
Applicants for vacant guard jobs have lagged over the past several months. Warden Bryan Kline said the hiring period for guard candidates saw just three applicants show up for a required agility test. Just one person passed the test but declined a job offer, Kline said.
“This is not taxpayer money. What it is,” Westmoreland County Prison Warden Bryan Kline explained. “There’s the inmate canteen fund. It’s coming out of that. Families deposit money on their books like food candy clothing, and that money is put into the canteen fund.”
Warden Bryan Kline said it’s unclear when the vaccination program will begin but the incentives are expected to entice a significant number inmates to receive the shots when they become available. Inmates will receive the full $25 credit for vaccinations, unlike other financial deposits, which are docked by 50% to pay for room and board expenses and court costs.
The prison board on Monday approved offering $25 in credit at the prison’s commissary to inmates who receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Kline said the incentive would be funded through the prison’s canteen fund, not taxpayer dollars.
“We only allow inmates to have them certain times a day,” Kline said of the tablets. Inmates will be issued tablets in the mornings, after breakfast, and must return them by 9 p.m. They cannot remain overnight with the inmates, the warden said.
In-person visitation has been prohibited for the past year. Some guards have gotten vaccinated and Kline praised correction officers and the medical staff for handling the outbreak on a daily basis.
Warden Bryan Kline said Monday there were 20 active cases among the 495 inmates lodged in the Hempfield lockup, down about 47%, from 38 cases just one week ago.
“It’s something that’s uncontrollable, but we’re trying,” Kline said.
“We will look at evidence-based practices that are effective and hopefully we will have the ability to incorporate some of those programs,” Kline said. “Obviously, there is a price tag to do that on the front end, but there will be a savings on the back end.”
“I am honored that I have the confidence of the prison board, and the details have not been finalized yet,” said Kline, noting he has not officially accepted the job and salary negotiations are ongoing. “I am not making any declarations on my future role as Clerk of Courts at this time.”
“We have had another surge of covid in the office with staff,” Kline said. “We will continue to operate by appointment only and will be closed daily from 12-1 for cleaning for the foreseeable future.
“I encourage everyone to download the new mobile application in the Apple and Android store for Clerk of Courts services.”
“We’ve had an increase in the office and an increase in the community. So, it is being done to protect the staff and the citizens that come into the office,” said Kline.
The clerk of courts was the first office in the county to restrict access, requiring the public to make an appointment before entering.
Officials are trying to limit traffic in the courthouse to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It's an experience Kline and his family all lived through.
"We saw the impact first-hand of how it affects people," Kline said. "We've all been affected one way or another and we're just trying to provide these services to the public."
Clerk of Courts Bryan Kline said the app, which is specific to Westmoreland County, will enable the public to search criminal court documents and make court payments for restitution and fines on mobile devices.
Kline, the county’s three-term Republican clerk of courts, said he was diagnosed late last week with the virus and has experienced significant symptoms, including a temperature that reached 104 degrees.
“My staff operations are limited” and Kline said he is trying to reduce the amount of foot traffic into the courthouse office. He declined to say how many employees were affected.
Clerk of Courts Bryan Kline said he opposed the raise for his deputy.
“I felt a raise would have been better served for my union employees because employee retention is an issue,” Kline said.
The Westmoreland County Clerk of Courts office this year collected more than $100,800 under a new program that diverts state tax refunds from criminal defendants who owe court costs, fees and restitution.
Between 50 and 100 crime victims will be selected to receive a prepaid debit card as part of a four-month initial phase of the program in a partnership with CourtFunds, said Bryan Kline, clerk of courts. The program could be expanded to other crime victims in the county if the initial phase works well, he said.
“It’s a big increase, but taxpayers should not be funding the court system. People involved in the court system should be funding it,” Kline said.
“I'm running for state representative to take my fight on behalf of taxpayers to Harrisburg,” Kline said. “As clerk of courts for Westmoreland County, I developed programs that have not only saved taxpayer money but collected court fees, fines and restitution to ensure that victims of crimes are made whole again. I have a proven track record of conservative reform and results.”
Bryan's office modeled the best practices advocated by the task force, including suspension of driver's licenses for failure to pay (more than 500 to date), accepting credit-card payments online and partnering with the bench to establish a collections court.
“During the last eight years, I have protected the rights of crime victims, while fighting for the hard working taxpayers of Westmoreland County. We continue to use the programs that I have developed to collect court fees, fines, and restitution to ensure that the crime victims are made financially whole again,” said Kline, 35, of Penn Township.
Pennsylvania state court officials are preparing a massive initiative that could pave the way for courts across the country to offer people convicted of minor offenses a fresh start outside the shadow of their past.
Clerk of Courts Bryan Kline said on Friday that an additional $11.50 will be assessed to defendants at the conclusion of their cases to pay for administrative costs.
“The culture has changed and we are becoming a cashless society, and the demand for these services has increased. The convenience fee for services like these are widely accepted by the consumers, more so today than in the past. I feel that these fees should not be a burden to the taxpayers and should be incurred by the defendants,” Kline said.
The board on Monday unanimously approved an idea proposed by Clerk of Courts Bryan Kline that will permit county prison officials to deduct money from personal accounts of inmates to pay toward their fines, court costs and restitution. Deductions can be taken only from prisoners who are formally sentenced.
“I think restitution to crime victims should be a priority,” Kline told the board.
Collection of restitution payments owed to crime victims and court costs paid to the government topped more than $6.1 million last year in Westmoreland County to set a record high, according to Clerk of Courts Bryan Kline
Collections of unpaid costs, fines and restitution have steadily increased since Kline took office in 2009. He implemented a system in which defendants who have missed payments are summoned to a hearing. Kline said he hopes to collect $6 million in 2014.
Bryan Kline, Westmoreland County’s clerk of courts, who served on the Restitution in Pennsylvania Task Force, said he requires all defendants to appear at an administrative hearing. If they fail to show up or stick to a payment plan, they’re found in contempt of court. .
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