MIFFLINTOWN - On the surface it appeared to be another normal miscellaneous court day on Thursday in the Juniata County Court of Common Pleas, but behind the scenes it was a little hectic.
Since the closure of the Juniata County Prison on July 25, various county departments have been trying to adjust to the scenario of the county's inmates being housed at the Mifflin County Correctional Facility.
Some departments are feeling the strain more than others, especially the Juniata County Sheriff's Department, which began transporting inmates for court on Thursday at around 7 a.m. so they would be in place by the time court started at 9 a.m.
One of the sheriff's deputies, who wished to remain anonymous, said by 8:30 a.m. the department had transported around nine inmates to Juniata County, where they were placed in the Juniata County Prison to await the start of court.
Sheriff Tom Lyter, who has been a vocal critic of the prison closure, said his deputies would be going back and forth to Mifflin County, as well as transporting some prisoners elsewhere, all day long.
Lyter said there would most likely be overtime involved for the six deputies on duty, who on occasion have been forced to transport three inmates at once in a patrol car. A total of 16 inmates had to be transported on Tuesday.
Lyter said the closure of the prison was "ridiculous" because the safety and security concerns cited by the county commissioners could have been addressed without closing the prison.
Now, Lyter said, "we lost the grandfather clause," and if the prison is ever reopened, the Department of Corrections would most certainly force the county to bring the building up to code.
The sheriff's department is not alone in dealing with transportation and overtime issues. The strain is also being felt by Juniata County Probation and Parole officers.
Chief Probation Officer Michelle Beaver said her department recently had an issue where they had to take someone into custody at their office and transport the person to the MCCF, which requires two officers. There were three officers on duty at that time and there were two other people waiting to speak with officers who had scheduled appointments.
"Fortunately," Beaver said, the other people in the office were cooperative and patiently waited as the officers took care of transporting the prisoner to the MCCF.
Beaver said the commissioners have since agreed to have a steel bench installed in the probation and parole office, which will have hooks for handcuffs and allow officers to temporarily detain prisoners safely.
Beaver said officers also have to travel to MCCF to interview inmates who are eligible for parole or when a pre-sentence investigation has been ordered by a judge, and the overtime and mileage are adding up.
Juniata County Public Defender Steven Manbeck said he wasn't sure what effect the prison closure would have for defense attorneys; however, he did cite an incident over the weekend in which a colleague couldn't gain access to a client and was turned away by staff at the MCCF.
Manbeck said the visitation rules at the MCCF are different on the weekends.
"We have yet to work out some communications problems, but, by and large, it's up in the air," Manbeck said.
It would also appear that the closure of the prison has impacted the victims of crime.
A client of Manbeck's who previously pleaded guilty to an indecent assault charge was supposed to be sentenced on Tuesday, but the case was continued because of some questions regarding eligibility for work-release through the MCCF.
The victim and victim's family were in court, expecting the sentencing to occur, and county victim's advocate, Sylvia Middaugh, could be heard apologizing to them in light of the situation with the defendant.
There have also been some other residual effects felt through the closure of the prison by the Juniata County Prothontary's office.
What once required filing paperwork in a folder mere feet from the entrance of the Juniata County Prison, now requires sending everything up to Mifflin County.
Prothontary Lori Ferry and Chief Deputy Christina Swarner said there has been an increase in the postage costs for the office.
"We are trying to establish a procedure to make sure paperwork gets to the defendant and anyone else who needs it," Ferry said.
Juniata County District Attorney Cory Snook said his department is probably the least affected by the prison closure, however, he believes the transition may have gone a little smoother with better planning.
Snook, who was also critical of the plan to close the prison, said it will take some time for everyone to adjust to this new scenario.