Pa. prison's female inmate population 'through the roof,' warden says

The largest housing unit at Cambria County Prison is currently not large enough to serve its population of female inmates

By Jocelyn Brumbaugh
The Tribune-Democrat

EBENSBURG, Pa. – The largest housing unit at Cambria County Prison is currently not large enough to serve its population of female inmates.

“Our female population is through the roof,” Warden Christian Smith told members of the Cambria County Prison Board during a regular meeting Wednesday at the Manor Drive facility.

Although the prison also houses state parole violators and those detained by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the 96 female inmates currently housed at the jail are all being held on Cambria County charges, Smith said.

A majority of the women are incarcerated for drug offenses or drug-related crimes.

The highest number of female inmates Smith said he’s seen at the prison is 105.

Prison staff has had to create a second female housing unit in a gymnasium, Smith said.

The space is being utilized to alleviate overcrowding, but still provides inmates with mattresses, a television, tables and phones.

“They have every amenity a housing unit has,” he said.

Deputy Warden Bill Patterson said when he started working at the prison as an officer in 1994, it was rare to house as many as nine female inmates.

Smith said he was recently approached by Blair County Prison officials who – when faced with the same problem – had asked to house some female inmates in Cambria County.

“I had to turn them away,” Smith said.

If the prison’s female population continues to climb, Smith said, the prison board will have to discuss possible solutions.

“We house them until we can’t house them,” he said.

Smith said that overall, the prison was housing 461 inmates as of Wednesday morning, with an average of 475 inmates in the building daily, some of whom are out of the building but under supervision for various treatments, he said.

While the facility does have empty beds in its juvenile unit, those spots are designated for younger inmates only, Smith said.

Since the county began offering those spots to other counties at a rate of $85 per inmate per day last year, eight counties have signed contracts to do so.

Smith said Northumberland County is the newest to express interest and a contract is pending to house the sole juvenile in their custody.

©2017 The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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