By CN Staff
HARRISBURG, Pa.—Dauphin County has announced a partnership with John Wetzel, former Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections.
The county will contract with Wetzel to conduct a review and recommended action plan for Dauphin County Prison. The action represents another step in the ongoing overall reform of prison operations taken on by the prison board.
The Dauphin County Commissioners on Wednesday approved a services agreement with Wetzel, who will serve for 18 months as a special advisor to the board of prison inspectors.
Wetzel’s scope of work will include a comprehensive review of prison operations, engagement with staff (including the correctional officers’ union), community stakeholders – and oversight of the recruitment and hiring process for a new Dauphin County director of corrections.
“Today is a bright day for Dauphin County and represents additional progress in our continued efforts to improve Dauphin County Prison,” said Dauphin County Commissioner Chair Mike Pries, who also serves as prison board chair. “We are partnering with an experienced, capable, and widely-respected leader in Mr. Wetzel.”
Wetzel will not serve on the prison board, nor will he be making the final hiring decision on a new director of corrections. Warden Gregory Briggs will continue to oversee daily prison operations.
Wetzel will communicate with staff, inmates and their families, the community, advocacy groups, and county and local officials while forming an action plan.
“This type of reform does not happen overnight, and we have made progress with many of the initiatives deployed at the prison in recent months,” Dauphin County Commissioner Chad Saylor said. “By no means are we casting aside those initiatives, which include new policies, body cameras, and improved security measures to keep harmful substances out of the prison.”
Commissioners Pries, Saylor, and George P. Hartwick, III unanimously voted Wednesday morning in support of the services agreement with Wetzel, which is capped at $175,000.
While the search for a new director of corrections is open, the interviewing process will commence after Wetzel has initiated contact with prison staff, inmates, and key stakeholders.
“We want to rebuild and repair community trust in prison operations,” Commissioner Hartwick said. “That starts with a transparent process of bringing operations up to 21st century standards.”
The commissioners and prison board have overseen the following projects in recent months:
– Body cameras: Being worn by correctional officers and activated during encounters with inmates. Video footage is stored and used for investigative purposes.
– Electronic library: Inmates have access to tablets that can be checked out and used to access books and other materials.
– A set of search policies and operating policy for the Community Advisory Committee: The policies were either new or revisions to existing policies.
– A new website that is more user-friendly and emphasizes the range of services and programs available to eligible inmates, along with accessible prison board meeting minutes and agenda information.
– Increased security measures: To include the scanning of incoming mail to inmates onto electronic tablets, so no foreign substances can be mailed to inmates.
– Facility camera and lighting upgrades: In efforts to record more encounters and incidents (in higher-quality files).