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Push to end solitary confinement in Lackawanna County Prison

SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Criminal justice advocates are calling on Lackawanna County officials to “end solitary confinement.” They went before the prison board Wednesday afternoon.

Solidarity not solitary, that was the message a local group of advocates is pushing after hearing the accounts of 20 inmates who were in solitary confinement.

“You heard about the withholding of medication for serious physical and mental health issues and unsafe and inedible food failure to provide access to programming or proper out of cell time in periods of extended isolation,” stated Holly Van Wert, of NEPA Stands Up.

The group NEPA Stands Up and Lackawanna County voters expressed their concerns to the Lackawanna County prison board Wednesday. They are asking to give inmates placed in solitary confinement more hours outside of a cell.

13,665 petition signatures were obtained over the summer to give voters a choice to end solitary confinement at the Lackawanna County Prison.

However, that’s not a term the Lackawanna County Prison warden would use to describe it.

“We don’t use that term we haven’t used that term in my career my 30 years plus career at the gym we have a restricted housing unit we have things like administrative custody protective custody disciplinary custody,” explained Tim Betti, the warden of Lackawanna County Prison.

According to Warden Tim Betti, there are 9×12 cells, large enough for 2 people with cells above and below.

“Every cell has a gap about that big underneath the door data for airflow purposes communication purposes,” said Betti

The warden says the average length of stay in the restrictive housing unit is 14 days.

The petition was turned into the county election board in August and commissioners denied its addition to the November ballot.

That is why the group brought it to the prison board’s attention and filed a lawsuit against county commissioners on Wednesday.

“Essentially we are asking the court to reverse the wrong that the board of elections did, and that is to put the solitary confinement referendum on the ballot so the voters of Lackawanna County can make the final decision,” explained Jaclyn Kurin, an attorney.

After hearing their concerns county controller Gary Dibileo said he would like a tour of the facility to be arranged.

“I think that’s a great step,” said Van Wert.

“Our referendum was asking for instead of 23 hours a day that they be down to 20 hours a day,” stated Brenda Johnson, of NEPA Stands Up.

The warden says that could be difficult, with 22% of the current prison population in a restrictive housing unit.

Betti says he’s trying to do the most effective job of ensuring the safety of inmates while giving them as much programming and rehabilitation as possible.

Eyewitness News also asked for a tour of the prison, cameras would not be allowed in but we will push for the tour.