MIFFLINTOWN - The Juniata County Prison Board meeting on Tuesday came to a dramatic end when County Commissioner Teresa O'Neal left abruptly following heated discussions with two judges.
President Judge Kathy A. Morrow and Magisterial District Judge Barbara Lyter voiced concerns throughout the meeting on issues that have since developed after the closing of the Juniata County Prison. The vote to close the prison, which occurred at a July 3 commissioners meeting was unanimous, despite the majority of the prison board voting in favor of researching several options before making a decision. The prison officially stopped housing inmates on July 25.
"So many people are upset about the prison closing ... I think it happened too fast. I feel bad for the guards and everyone who lost their jobs," Lyter said.
Morrow said she received an email from Juniata County District Attorney Cory Snook citing problems attorneys are having gaining access to defendants at the Mifflin County Correctional Facility and transportation mishaps involving inmates.
Morrow said all the comments directed toward her from the public regarding closing the prison have been negative.
Morrow added that closing the prison has "negatively impacted" the court.
O'Neal said she respects the opinions of those who were opposed to closing the prison, however the decision was made and it's time to move forward.
O'Neal said the commissioners had an obligation to taxpayers, some of whom thanked them for making the "difficult decision" to close the prison.
Morrow said her "frustration" stems from the commissioners' "lack of planning" in closing the prison and was done so without taking the advice of others.
"You have now created a mess and left us to fix the pieces," Morrow said.
At one point during the meeting, Morrow questioned the purpose of having a prison board, because the county's prisoners are now housed at the Mifflin County Correctional Facility.
"Are we going to have another prison board meeting or not, or what are we doing?" Morrow asked.
Commissioner Jeffrey Zimmerman said the next scheduled prison board meeting is Sept. 10.
Morrow suggested that before the next prison board meeting, they should hold a separate meeting for all the "stakeholders," and invite the district attorney, defense attorneys, the prothonotary and law enforcement from the probation and parole department and the Pennsylvania State Police.
"I think there are too many unanswered questions," Morrow said.
The meeting ended when O'Neal stood up after several back and forth exchanges between Morrow and Lyter. O'Neal said she had enough and was "no longer the warden, I'm going to go do my job."
Without O'Neal at the meeting there was no longer a quorum, because Morrow, Zimmerman and Sheriff Tom Lyter were the only other members present from the prison board. Commissioner Bob Reynolds, Treasurer Sandra King and District Attorney Cory Snook were absent from the meeting.