Staffing issues, COVID continue to cause hardship for Cambria County Prison

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Sep. 14—EBENSBURG, Pa. — Staffing shortages continue to cause hardships at the Cambria County Prison, Warden Christian Smith said.

Smith informed the county's prison board Wednesday that 11 new corrections officers and one per-diem corrections officer will start Monday.

He said it will take about five weeks for the new officers to be trained — and that once they have completed the academy, the prison will be back to a full watch.

Smith said COVID-19 has been a factor, with 12 staff members out in the past two weeks due to the virus. That equaled 60 shifts that needed to be filled.

As of Wednesday, the prison has seen an increase of 53 cases since August according to Smith, including two individuals that tested positive Tuesday night. This includes 41 inmates and 12 employees.

Since Sept. 23, 2020, there have been 676 positive cases at the prison — 141 prison employees, 11 contract employees and 526 inmates or detainees. Information about impacted units and updated case counts can be found online at cambriacountypa.gov/prison.

Controller Ed Cernic raised concerns that the prison's overtime budget has been depleting over the last several months.

"We budgeted around half a million dollars for overtime," Cernic said. "You guys only have $95,000 left. There's only so much left and there's not enough money there. You guys have got to do something to hold that down — because half a million dollars just in overtime that's, that's absurd."

Smith told the board that at one point during the year, six inmates were hospitalized which required 12 officers and overtime was incurred.

He said he will reach out to the courts to have low-risk inmates furloughed during hospitalizations to reduce overtime.

Smith added that other measures were taken while the prison is in what he described as "crisis mode." He said officers can't split shifts if they are mandated and that prison administration has received permission from the union for former officers who are now counselors to work as officers as needed during this time.