Union Rallies for New Pennsylvania Prison

UNIONTOWN, Pa. — More than 100 correctional officers, union leaders, county officials and supporters rallied at the Fayette County Courthouse on April 11 to push for the construction of a new prison. Members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), which represents some 70 correctional officers employed at the current Fayette County Prison, organized the gathering.

The county’s current jail was constructed in 1889, and poses many health and safety risks to both inmates and staff. In an interview with local newspaper the Herald-Standard, UMWA International District 2 Representative Frank Rutherford highlighted the lack of ventilation, growing electrical issues and several structural problems in the current facility. According to Rutherford, these conditions force workers to perform their duties in an unsafe environment.

American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network Executive Director Brian Dawe gave an impassioned speech at the rally. There, he told fellow supporters that the Fayette County Prison was one of the worst he’d ever seen, calling it “a disgrace” and noting numerous safety concerns for correctional staff. In particular, he highlighted rainwater and drainage issues and multiple unsecure areas.

“Do what’s right for these men and women,” Dawe said. “Protect them. Give them a decent environment to work in. It’s about time people stood up here and did the right thing for the men and women that do the most dangerous job in law enforcement today.”

Dawe also cautioned that, if action was not taken quickly, an inmate was likely to file charges against the county. He added that such a suit could result in federal action and millions in additional prison spending.

UMWA International Union Secretary/Treasurer Daniel Kane echoed Dawes, saying he had toured numerous prisons across the country but had never seen conditions like those at the Fayette County Prison. “You better take control of that situation,” Kane said. “Or it will take control of you.”

Though the Fayette County Prison Board, comprised of local law enforcement officials and elected officials, has outlined plans for a new 480-bed facility, local opposition to the plan remains high. The proposed prison would feature video visitation, space to educate inmates and provide mental health care. The 98,000-square-foot facility would likely be built on a 58-acre site, and has been estimated to cost $31 million.

Commissioner and prison board member Al Ambrosini said, “We believe this new jail will provide the safest working conditions for our union brothers and sisters who perform the difficult duties of inmate management.”

The project would likely be funded through local lenders or a general obligation bond and could begin as early as June 2014. However, a group of Fayette County citizens has approached the county elections bureau with a petition that could potentially allow voters to decide the prison’s fate.