Northumberland County Prison Board revises visitation policy
SUNBURY - The visitation policy at Northumberland County Prison has been revised due to the publicity generated by accused murderer Miranda Barbour, who gave a jailhouse interview in which she claimed to have killed 22 people.
Prison board vice chairman and county Commissioner Richard Shoch said the publicity, which included several requests by the media for subsequent interviews with Barbour, has caused many distractions for prison staff and affected their duties.
The new policy permits inmates to have visits with family members, clergy, attorneys and "friends of prior acquaintance" under conditions consistent with prison security, and limits the media's contact with prisoners to either letters or telephone calls unless they were friends prior to the inmate's commitment to prison.
Voting to approve the policy were Shoch, Controller Chris Grayson, Sheriff Robert Wolfe and Commissioner Vinny Clausi. Commissioner Stephen Bridy opposed it and First Assistant District Attorney Ann Targonski abstained. Targonski represented District Attorney Tony Rosini.
The board currently has only six members since both President Judge William H. Wiest and Judge Charles Saylor declined to serve because of conflicts it could cause with them presiding over cases involving county prisoners. Former President Judge Robert B. Sacavage, who retired in January, served on the board for many years.
Shoch stressed the media has a right to communicate with prisoners if they grant permission, but noted the recent controversy involving Barbour and its impact at the prison.
Warden Roy Johnson, who was criticized by Clausi and Bridy for moving Barbour last month to SCI-Muncy without notifying her family or attorney, said he reviewed the new visitation policy prior to Wednesday's meeting.
Barbour, 19, of Selinsgrove, remains at SCI-Muncy, but is allowed to confer with her attorneys Edward Greco and Paige Rosini at the county jail when she is moved there in advance of proceedings at the nearby courthouse. Her 22-year-old husband, Elytte Barbour, who also is charged by Sunbury police with murdering Troy LaFerrara, 42, of Port Trevorton, Nov. 11, is incarcerated at the county prison after formerly being housed at Columbia County Prison in Bloomsburg.
Prison board solicitor John Muncer said the visitation policy was developed in accordance with a U.S. Supreme Court case and the state prison visitation procedure.
The policy, which states the warden is responsible for operating the visitation program, allows people under 18 to visit only when accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. People on active probation or parole or other forms of conditional release ordinarily will not be approved.
Other conditions include:
- People with criminal records will not be automatically excluded from visiting; however, they must be approved by the warden or his designee. The nature and extent of an individual's criminal record will be weighed against the benefits of visitation in determining eligibility.
- Persons believed by substantial evidence to have a potentially detrimental effect on the inmate or who constitutes a threat to the security of the facility will be excluded from the list.
- People currently or formerly employed or contracted by the county prison require special permission from the warden to visit.
- Persons who are or were victims of crimes allegedly committed by the inmates also require special visitation approval from the warden.
- Inmates will be allowed a minimum of one visitation period per week for a maximum of one hour. Visitation periods will be on a first-come, first-served basis with no guarantees of weekend or evening availability. All visits will be pre-scheduled through the work release coordinator. Visits for unscheduled days and times must be approved by the warden or his designee.
- Visits will be supervised by staff at all times.
- A visitation area will be available to ensure privileged communications between inmates and their attorneys. Each attorney must be identified through a bar card and photo identification. Inmates may refuse to see attorneys.
- Inmates who become violent or disruptive in the visitation area may be disallowed visitors.
- Visitation area staff will maintain a record of all approved visitors and must document all visits as to date, person visiting, time visited and any unusual incidents.
- Limitations may be imposed on the number of visitors who may visit at one time to prevent overcrowding.
- The policy also covers reasons to deny or terminate visits and searches.
On a split vote, the board approved an anti-nepotism policy stating that no person shall be appointed or placed for employment in the prison if any relative of that employee or prospective employee closer than a first cousin related through blood or marriage is currently employed at the prison, unless approved by the prison board. The policy does not apply to relatives currently working at the prison.
Bridy and Clausi voted against the policy because they believe it exposes the county to potential litigation.
The board approved a motion to have D.H. Stark Investigations investigate matters presented during a Feb. 25 executive session.
A motion was approved to reduce part-time prison courier Melinda Ferguson's hours from 24 to 16 per week. Targonski cast the lone dissenting vote.
The board held a 10-minute executive session to discuss litigation.