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Jail faces complications as court operations pause

Times Observer file photo The population of the Warren Count Jail is low currently — staff are undertaking preventative maintenance projects — but officials are concerned both for a group of inmates who have been waiting to get to state prison since November as well as the possible population of the jail later this year when court operations return to normal.

Many of the complications brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic are obvious.

Some not so much.

One such complication is a group of inmates sitting at the Warren County Jail waiting for transport to state prison.

An inmate reached out to the Times Observer and said that the transport he was a part of to the state’s classification prison was rejected due to COVID-19 testing protocols.

The reason for the rejection back in November didn’t have anything to do with COVID-19 protocols, according to Warren County Jail Warden Jon Collins.

Collins said there was a staffing communication issue at the state prison that resulted in the state rejecting the transport. The county jail was told they could bring the inmates back anytime that week but the sheriff’s office didn’t have the manpower to handle the transport.

He explained that since that incident, the state has offered two dates in January that got canceled as well as two in February.

“We’ve got a bunch of people to go,” Collins said. “In my position, I don’t want these people here.”

He said continuing to house these inmates is a burden to the taxpayers but also said that state inmates have programming they have to complete.

Without accessibility to those programs “they’re making them stay in the state system even longer,” he said.

There are 15 such inmates waiting to go.

“That’s quite a bit,” he said, and will require two trips.

He added they will try “to get them there as soon as possible” and will comply with any protocols the state requires. “That’s what we have done.”

Collins said that the population of the jail has been low, citing the court system not currently bringing as many defendants in.

Terms of house arrest have been much more common in sentencing court in the last year.

District Attorney Rob Greene said that a defendant’s right to a speedy trial was suspended by Pa. Supreme Court order due to COVID-19.

Greene said his office is working with defense counsel “to make sure that the Constitutional rights of criminal defendants are upheld, but with the current COVID situation, it makes (it) difficult.”

“Currently, most all criminal cases have been postponed until April due to the increase in COVID cases,” he said. “However, this does not include incarcerated individual’s scheduled hearings.”

“Our population is down,” Collins added, so much so that they’ve been undertaking preventative maintenance projects and painting.

Whether the jail will continue with the flexibility once court operations resume isn’t yet clear.

Collins said he’s concerned about what will happen to the population in the jail this summer once all those cases work through the system.

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