SUNBURY - The family of a Northumberland County Prison inmate is at odds with the warden on the handling of parole paperwork.

Bill Portzline, 27, of Coal Township, was eligible for release July 4, his minimum release date. Good behavior shaved 79 days off his original Sept. 21 minimum. Instead, he won't be paroled until today - 65 days early.

His application was filled out in early June but wasn't processed in time for consideration at a July 3 parole board hearing. It was up for approval the following week on July 11, but that hearing was canceled. He's expected to be released today.

Portzline's mother, Paulette Yocum, as well as his fiance, Nytasha Shinskie, said that's two weeks longer than necessary. At $55 a day to house an inmate, it cost of $770, and falls in line with allegations by commissioner Chairman Vinny Clausi, who says paperwork delays cost the county $9,000 in June and $100,000 in 2013.

"I totally understand Bill put himself in there and he needed to do his time," Yocum wrote in an email to The News-Item. "But now, through no fault of Bill's, he was denied the opportunity to even be considered for early release on two occasions."

Shinskie agreed with Yocum, that Portzline has only himself to blame for his punishment for a probation violation. She and Yocum made the decision to call Portzline's probation officer on him, after which he was locked up Oct. 14, 2013. But miscommunication from prison officials had the family believing he'd be home July 4 and in time for his son's first birthday.

Three weeks before signature

Portzline had two non-violent misconducts early in his stay at the county jail. Since then, he's behaved well enough to land a job through the work release program and also earn time off his sentence for good behavior.

According to his family, Portzline received the application June 6 and turned it in 15 minutes later. Jimmy Cortelyou, chief probation officer, said Thursday the application was signed and dated June 10. That leaves either 21 or 25 days until July 1, when, according to Warden Roy Johnson, prison commander Brian Whary signed a parole recommendation. It was two more days, on July 3, when the probation department received the paperwork, according to Cortelyou. He added that Portzline's home plan for early release was also approved.

The probation department needs one week to review an application before making its own recomendation to the parole board. It was recommended that Portzline be released July 11. However, a parole board hearing was canceled due to a lack of a quorum.

The parole board is an independent entity, and prison officials do not conduct the hearings. Johnson said Thursday that Portzline's paperwork was in before his minimum date and was to have a hearing July 11. The hearing was canceled by the board and through no fault of the prison's, Johnson said.

Late, but early

Portzline could still be in jail if Johnson chose to erase his "good time" due to the early misconducts, he said. Although he wasn't released July 4, he is likely to be out today - 65 days ahead of his original minimum release date.

"He's actually getting out way earlier because the system is working," Johnson said.

Johnson couldn't confirm when Portzline turned in his parole application, but said that will change. New protocol will be put in place tracking the times and dates when applications are turned over to inmates, when they're returned to corrections officers and so forth.

Management

Prison management is easier when eligible inmates are released on their minimum sentence, he said.

"We're going to step it up and make dang sure they're over to parole even earlier," Johnson said. "I can't let the people at the prison keep (getting) the brunt of every allegation that comes back."

Johnson was under fire during Wednesday's meeting of the prison board by majority commissioners Clausi and Stephen Bridy. They allege mismanagement by Johnson, blaming him for allegedly delaying parole paperwork while also criticising him for two inmate suicides within 10 months. Another incident Monday night initially reported as a suicide attempt will be reclassified by Johnson as "self-mutilation."

Johnson bristled Wednesday, loudly protesting the accusations. A vote failed 2-2-1 to fire him. Four affirmative votes were needed.

On Thursday, he said he welcomes a top-down inspection of the prison and his management. (See accompanying story.)

Courtelyou said Wednesday that parole applications are slow to come from the prison to the probation department. But he didn't lay blame on prison officials, saying delays could be the fault of inmates failing to return the applications in a timely manner.

Prison protocol had been for inmates to receive applications two weeks ahead of their minimum release date, which doesn't explain how Portzline got his nearly one month in advance. That was the old method, handing them out one month ahead of time. And now it will be the new method, with county officials this week nixing the two-week protocol and reverting back to the one-month protocol. Cortelyou said he believes this could speed up the parole process.