SUNBURY — Corrections officers (COs) who work at the Northumberland County Jail receive 40 paid days off per year, according to Northumberland County Commissioner Sam Schiccatano.
Schiccatano provided that information during Wednesday’s Northumberland County Prison Board meeting, after once again being questioned by Fran Ruzicka, of Sunbury, about why the county only pays officers a starting salary of $12.75 per hour.
Ruzicka, who has two sons working as COs at the jail, has raised the issue multiple times at past meetings.
During the July meeting, Schiccatano tasked Warden Bruce Kovach with finding out what the pay and benefits are for COs in surrounding counties. Schiccatano said on Wednesday all of the data is not yet available.
“I’ve recruited 10 to 20 young people to go to the prison to be COs,” Schiccatano said. “I really appreciate COs ... As far as the losing of COs, that’s happening to every county prison.”
In July, Schiccatano said with salary and benefits combined, Northumberland County corrections officers can earn between $44,000 and $58,000 during their first year on the job.
In addition to a medical plan in which employees pay very little out-of-pocket expenses, Schiccatano said Northumberland County COs have a pension plan and receive at least 10 paid holidays, 15 paid sick days and one paid personal day.
Ruzicka also briefly exchanged words with Commissioner Chairman Rick Shoch, who previously mentioned that Ruzicka’s sons must be satisfied with the pay and benefits they receive working as COs.
Ruzicka said she was upset by Shoch’s comments.
“I was pointing out that there are people who think the total package we have, in compensation, is beneficial to them,” Shoch said. “Your sons are among those people who looked at the package and decided to stay here to work.”
President Judge Charles Saylor, chairman of the prison board, ended the discussion by noting the benefits package the COs receive is negotiated between a union and the county.
“It’s a union issue,” he told Ruzicka. “You have to tell your sons to talk to their union representatives if they’re dissatisfied.”
Kovach reported the jail currently has 84 employees, including 75 full-time COs, four part-time COs, two records officers and three administrative positions.
Over the past month, he said the prison has hired five new employees, while two have resigned and one was terminated.
He reported the current prison population is 267 inmates.
Kovach also announced the prison has been awarded a grant from Vivitrol, a prescription drug that is used to treat opioid and alcohol dependence. The medication’s website reports that prisons “may be eligible to apply for federal and state funding.”
Kovach said he did not know the amount of the grant and added that planning for use of the funds is still in the early stages.
With the funding, Kovach said, a counselor will be hired. The counselor will work with inmates who opt to receive Vivitrol injections as part of their release.
“Vivitrol is a medication which will help to reduce the desire to do opioids,” Kovach said.
He noted that Schuylkill County served as a pilot location for giving inmates Vivitrol and counseling as part of their re-entry into society after incarceration.
“Studies have shown (Vivitrol) is most effective,” Kovach said. “It’s successful enough where the state DOC (Department of Corrections) is supportive of it.”
The prison board also heard from Jubilee Ministries CEO Ryan Newswanger.
Newswanger said the program, based in Lebanon County, was founded 25 years ago and can work with men just released from prison or individuals who are given alternative sentencing options.
Each person accepted into the program must spend time working for the organization, which operates five thrift stores.
The men also live in a home operated by Jubilee Ministries and have a tight schedule they must follow. Participants are also involved in Bible studies and take classes in areas such as financial management and life skills.
“We are looking for people who want to change their life,” Newswanger said. “This is not a vacation or a get out of jail free card ... We are willing to help, but they must play their part.”
He said the program, which lasts seven to 10 months for participants, has seen successes.
“This has been successful to the point I have employers calling me asking if I have men ready to work,” Newswanger said.
Schiccatano expressed an interest in the county potentially having further discussions with Jubilee Ministries.
“Organizations like you are what we all feel can make a difference,” he said, to Newswanger. “I would love to be part of that, if something can be worked out.”
Commissioner Kym Best was absent from Wednesday’s prison board meeting due to a family commitment.