“Forteniters Club in Norristown celebrates 40 years of fellowship”

Article Link

This December 28, 2014 The Times Herald article talks about a group that meets every couple of weeks and consists of people who have been in treatment for mental illness.  the group focuses on getting together to have fun, socialize and feel a sense of belonging to a community that is something people with mental illnesses tend to struggle with.  The atmosphere is one of acceptance.

”UPDATE: ‘Bug Oven’ Caused Friday Night Fire at State Hospital”

Location of Norristown in Montgomery County

Image via Wikipedia

Article Link

This article dated October 1, 2011 indicates that a device used to combat bed bug infestation commonly called a ‘bug oven’ was faulty and caused a fire at Norristown State Hospital.  The article was found on the Norristown Patch website and is a followup to an article dated September 30, 2011 on the same site which was the first piece about the fire and can be found here.

“Petrarca successfully fights closing of forensic psychiatric unit at Torrance State Hospital”

http://www.pahouse.com/PR/055062811.asp

This one was news to me, I wasn’t aware of the possibility that the forensic unit at Torrance was being considered for closure.   but the above link is to a press release from State Rep Joe Petrarca indicating that he had stopped the closure

 

 

“Fate of Norristown State Hospital remains up for debate”

  Interesting article, not that it has to do directly with Mental Health, but it offers some interesting insight into the potential future of Norristown State Hospital.  This article was found in the April 30, 2009 issue of Philly.com local news website and can be found in it’s original format at …http://www.philly.com/philly/news/local/20090430_Fate_of_Norristown_State_Hospital_remains_up_for_debate.html

Fate of Norristown State Hospital remains up for debate

Across from a neighborhood of bungalows and rowhouses along the Norristown-West Norriton border, Norristown State Hospital stretches for 225 rolling, tree-lined acres, awaiting its third life.

But what might be in store for the 30-building site, which includes a dwindling mental institution, is an ongoing debate.

“Frankly, it’s a large parcel of land that’s completely underutilized and off the tax rolls,” State Rep. Matthew Bradford (D., Montgomery) said. “It’s time to have an honest discussion of what we do going forward.”

The complex, which opened with 392 patients and grew to hold thousands, has the lowest population in its 192-year history, and is scheduled to shrink further. Some of the buildings have been rented to social-service providers and government agencies, while others are vacant and in disrepair.

Two state agencies, the Department of General Services and the Department of Public Welfare, oversee the hospital, but neither has a plan for its future, said Stacey Witalec, a state spokeswoman.

In March, Norristown residents protested and turned back a state-approved bid to bring in its 32d tenant: Vision Quest, an agency that houses at-risk youths.

“When places are looking for a place to house dangerous pedophiles or children waiting to enter into the social-service system, they house them in Norristown,” said Gina Bottone, one of the protestors.

Government outposts and agencies to aid the troubled or drug-addicted rent nearly half the buildings still standing at Norristown State Hospital, while patients occupy just four.

Ten of the buildings, scheduled for demolition, are roped off and vacant. Their boarded-up windows face potholed roads. Most are dilapidated, red-brick Victorian buildings, originally patient lodgings.

Today, their craggy, sagging entranceways and “danger” signs dispel any perception of warmth. Three will be torn down this year, more when the money is budgeted, said Gerald P. Kent, chief executive officer of the hospital.

“We’re trying to get smaller,” he said.

Neighbors, and their political allies, say the decay has made the sprawling site an eyesore.

“I don’t think that over several decades we’ve been very good stewards of the property,” Bradford said.

He and Rep. Mike Vereb (R., Montgomery) say they want a direction for Norristown State Hospital beyond the ad-hoc, one-year leases to agencies neighbors regard as a perennial problem.

Officially, nothing has happened.

“We’d like to move toward a more definitive plan,” Vereb said. “What that plan is, I just don’t know. I don’t know anybody that does know.”

Meanwhile, the mental hospital’s population, 380 now, will eventually recede nearly to a patient an acre. That was unthinkable when 4,700 patients overfilled the place in 1954, before psychiatric drugs became widely available and more emphasis was placed on allowing the mentally ill to avoid long-term commitments.

Norristown hoped the dwindling was a one-way street. Thirty years ago, the hospital was down to 1,200 patients, and then-City Manager John Plonski railed about “another influx of criminals” when a new ward for criminally insane juveniles was proposed.

Total closure seems unlikely. For one, the 136-patient forensic unit for criminally committed patients is often near capacity.

“The forensic unit is going to be here for God knows how long,” said Aidan Altenor, the hospital’s former head, who now oversees it and other state hospitals from Harrisburg.

There is, however, a precedent for turning obsolete parts of Norristown State Hospital into an asset for the neighborhoods around it: Neighboring Norristown Farm Park, an immense public park on land where patients once raised crops and livestock.

Observers talk about similar ideas coming out of the hospital’s limbo.

“It would be a beautiful addition if we could get it to developable land,” said Bill Caldwell, who chairs the Norristown Council’s planning and economic development committee. “In a town of 3.5 square miles that was built out probably 100 years ago, you know, that’s a tough thing to find.”

“Vision Quest details architectural plans Building at state hospital would become a youth crisis center”

This article found in the Monday, January 12, 2009 issue of the Norristown Times-Herald and can be viewed below or at the following address http://www.timesherald.com/articles/2009/01/12/news/doc496aca3cee3ac542528279.prt  

 

Vision Quest details architectural plans

Building at state hospital would become a youth crisis center

 

Monday, January 12, 2009 3:14 AM EST

 

By CARL ROTENBERG
Times Herald Staff

NORRISTOWN — The latest use variance request from Vision Quest of Downingtown to use Building 12 at Norristown State Hospital for a youth crisis diagnostic service for 12- to 18-year-olds, details how rooms in the three-story brick building would be used.

The architectural plans by David Black Associates in Chambersburg show a cafeteria, commercial kitchen, laundry facility and storage spaces in the 27,992-square-foot basement.

The first floor includes 14 bedrooms, four solariums, two dayrooms, two classrooms and two computer labs. The largest bedrooms measure 20 by 26 feet and are divided into four smaller areas by room dividers.

The second floor includes 12 bedrooms, four solariums, six administration offices, two dayrooms, two classrooms and one computer lab.

A packet of about 20 color photos submitted with the use variance application details the outside of the red-brick “U”-shaped building.

A 12-foot high cyclone fence, with a four-foot inward, inclined extension on top, closes off the grassy interior courtyard from the rest of the Norristown State Hospital campus.

The “former 24-hour psychiatric facility” would be equipped with “delayed egress locks” at all outside doors to prevent unauthorized entry and exit, the zoning application said. Any opening of the doors would start an “audible signal” (alarm).

Only a loss of electric power, a fire or an electric signal from each dayroom can disable the lock system, the application said.

Vision Quest and the state Department of General Services, which operates state facilities for the state Department of Public Welfare, have jointly applied for the use variance.

The use variance argued the “use is a permitted use pursuant to Section 320-81A(7) of the Norristown zoning ordinance, to the extent relief is deemed to be required.”

“Applicant seeks requested relief and any and all other relief as may be necessary to operate facility,” the application said, for an “institution for the short-term care of minor children in a custodial healthcare facility.”

The state hospital property, located at Sterigere and Stanbridge streets, has limited uses in several buildings for psychiatric care, the criminally insane and homeless services. Many buildings with broken windows and a dilapidated appearance on the grounds are posted with “Danger — No Entrance” signs.

The Norristown Zoning Hearing Board will hold a hearing on Vision Quest’s request for a use variance at 7 p.m., Jan. 27, at the municipal hall.

The Norristown State Hospital Board of Trustees issued a press release Thursday that said it understands and respects the community’s concerns regarding Vision Quest’s zoning application.

The board members said their responsibility is to advise, assist and make recommendations to the CEO of the hospital on management and operations questions.

They also expressed commitment to quality care for those who live at Norristown State Hospital.

State Rep. Mike Vereb, R- Dist. 150, and State Rep. Matthew Bradford, D-Dist. 70, have publicly opposed the Vision Quest proposal along with a majority of Norristown council.

Residents living in the neighborhood around the hospital have also expressed strong opposition.

“It’s bad news for Norristown,” said Norristown resident Gina Bottone in December. “It’s a black mark on the better reputation that Norristown is trying to build for itself. I don’t think Norristown should have to babysit Philadelphia’s problem children.”

In a Nov. 26, 2008 letter to Norristown Zoning Officer Jayne Musonye, the director of the Bureau of Real Estate for the state General Services department had asserted the department’s right to use the building.

“The intended use is clearly a permitted use and also a necessary function that is critical to the delivery of services required by the (state Department of Public Welfare) DPW,” wrote Joanne Phillips, the real estate director. “The Department of General Services is advising Vision Quest that they have fully complied with their lease agreement with the Commonwealth and we are authorizing Vision Quest to initiate occupancy of Building 12 at Norristown State Hospital.”

That letter prompted Norristown officials to get a state court order late last year, which forced Vision Quest to apply for a use variance.

Carl Rotenberg can be reached at crotenberg@timesherald.com or 610-272-2500, ext. 350.

“Hearing request postponed”

This article found in the Tuesday, December 16, 2008edition of The Times-Herald in Norristown offers an update as to where things are at with Vision Quest’s proposal to utilize building 12 on Norristown State Hospital grounds to house 100+ male teens who are in need of emergency crisis services.  this particular article seems to indicate that Vision Quest has a green light to move in, but I feel like there is more to the story then what is in the article. 

This article can be found at the following address … http://www.timesherald.com/articles/2008/12/16/news/doc494729b1eeb78123847051.txt 

Hearing request postponed

 

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 1:18 AM EST

By CARL ROTENBERG
Times Herald Staff

NORRISTOWN — An emergency court hearing on Norristown’s request for an injunction against a proposal for youth housing and treatment in Building 12 at Norristown State Hospital was postponed Monday afternoon in Harrisburg.

The postponement of the hearing before a Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania judge happened after Norristown officials, Norristown Solicitor Todd Eisenberg and representatives of Vision Quest of Downingtown, Chester County, and Tucson, Ariz., and the state Department of General Services (DGS) apparently agreed Vision Quest would apply for a use variance and a public hearing before the Norristown Zoning Hearing Board, said Municipal Administrator David Forrest.

A proposal to use Building 12 on the hospital grounds for 12-to-18-year-old youth needing “emergency or crisis diagnostic services” has run into major opposition from West End neighbors, municipal officials and two state representatives.

In a Nov. 26 letter to Norristown Zoning Officer Jayne Musonye, the director of the Bureau of Real Estate for the state General Services department asserted the department’s right to use the building.

“The intended use is clearly a permitted use and also a necessary function that is critical to the delivery of services required by the (state Department of Public Welfare) DPW,” said Joanne Phillips, the real estate director. “The Department of General Services is advising Vision Quest that they have fully complied with their lease agreement with the Commonwealth and we are authorizing Vision Quest to initiate occupancy of Building 12 at Norristown State Hospital.”

That state letter prompted Norristown to seek the injunction.

A 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, meeting at Hancock Fire Co., 820 W. Airy St., Norristown with Ward 1 and Ward 2 residents will include a discussion of the Vision Quest proposal.

Council President Mila Hayes and Councilman William Caldwell, the representatives of the two wards, will moderate the discussion.  

Last week state Rep. Mike Vereb, R-150th Dist., said his opposition to the proposal started with “the lack of notification to the community.”

Carl Rotenberg can be reached at crotenberg@timesherald.com or 610-272-2500, ext. 350.

“Opposing camps to sound off on Vision Quest youth facility”

 This article found in the Norristown Times-Herald on Monday, December 15, 2008 at the following link http://www.timesherald.com/articles/2008/12/15/news/doc4945e3921308f957055845.txt  Discusses an upcoming hearing about whether or not Vision Quest can open their proposed facility or not.

Opposing camps to sound off

on Vision Quest youth facility

 

Monday, December 15, 2008 2:06 AM EST

By CARL ROTENBERG
Times Herald Staff

NORRISTOWN — Council President Mila Hayes and Councilman William Caldwell will host a combined Ward 1 and 2 community meeting Wednesday evening where residents opposed to a plan to use Building 12 at Norristown State Hospital for more than 100 “troubled” male youths are expected to speak.

The 6:30 p.m. meeting at Hancock Fire Co., 820 W. Airy St., Norristown, will include discussion of the plan by Vision Quest of Downingtown, Chester County, and Tucson, Ariz. to use the multi-story C-shaped building for a “custodial healthcare facility” to “temporarily house youth ages 12 to 18 who are in need of emergency or crisis diagnostic services,” according to a Nov. 13 zoning application from Vision Quest for a “use variance.”

An emergency hearing on Norristown’s request for an injunction against the proposed youth housing and treatment, will be held at 1:30 p.m., Monday, before a judge of Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.

The judge to hear oral arguments will be identified today to avoid “judge shopping” by competing attorneys, courthouse personnel have said.

Norristown Solicitor Todd Eisenberg said Vision Quest officials had said the proposal was for “over 100 youth.”

 URL: http://www.timesherald.com/articles/2008/12/15/news/doc4945e3921308f957055845.prt

“Proposal meets resistance”

This article found in the Norristown Times Herald on Tuesday, December 9, 2008 can be viewed in it’s original format at the following address ….  http://www.timesherald.com/articles/2008/12/09/news/doc493df64ae12c0409335039.txt 

This seems like yet another article that should be titled, “not in my backyard” I was surprised to see some of the people who were protesting the establishment of a youth crisis facility on Norristown STate Hospital grounds.  I guess it’s ok in the small minds of these folks to have kids in crisis, but the help needs to be in someone else’s backyard.  it’s been my personal experience that facilities of this type are generally locked facilities, and the supervision is very close especially in youth facilities.  So, considering the fact that Vision Quest wants to establish this facility in a building I can only assume was most likely used in the past to house adults with mental illnesses, which would probably generate income for Norristown State Hospital and/or the state of PA.  Doesn’t it seem a little odd that people are ok with adults being housed on state hospital property, but when it comes to kids they are against it?  Suicide is among the leading causes of deaths among teens.  If the people protesting this facility had a teen in crisis would they rather take them to a local facility, or would they prefer their teen be placed on an adult unit  or possibly even need to be transported across the state to the other side of the state where a facility not in your backyard could treat your teen who is in crisis.  This happened to me as a teen I was transported from Northwestern, PA down to Eastern State School and Hospital which was diagnoally on the other side of the state.  I didn’t see my family the entire time I was there, which made it very challenging for me, not to mention I was shell shocked because I lived in a rural community and was placed on a unit with kids from inner city Philly.  I would MUCH rather see facilities for youth being implimented at least on a regional basis across the state rather then see a kid have to be placed hundreds of miles from home at a time when they need their family’s support.

At any rate, this article kind of boilded my blood a bit you can check out the article for yourself below.

Proposal meets resistance

 

Tuesday, December 9, 2008 2:15 AM EST

By CARL ROTENBERG
Times Herald Staff

NORRISTOWN — A proposal to use Building 12 at Norristown State Hospital for 12-to-18-year-old youth needing “emergency or crisis diagnostic services” has run into major opposition from West End neighbors, municipal officials and at least one state representative.

This fall, Vision Quest of Downingtown, Chester County, and Tucson, Ariz., asked the state Department of General Services and Norristown officials for permission to use the multi-story, C-shaped, residential building for a “custodial healthcare facility” to “temporarily house youth ages 12 to 18 who are in need of emergency or crisis diagnostic services,” according to a Nov. 13 zoning application from Vision Quest for a “use variance.”

 In fact, Vision Quest filled out the zoning application as a legal courtesy to Norristown officials because attorney Paul Padien, representing Vision Quest, alleged the temporary youth housing and treatment center was exempt from Norristown’s approval process because the former mental hospital is a state facility.

In the application, Vision Quest officials said, “Youth who receive these emergency services typically have a length of stay from one to 30 days while their behavior can be stabilized and a plan for their physical, medical, psychological/psychiatric or educational disabilities can be addressed under 24-hour-a-day supervision.”

A seven-year resident of Noble Street summarized the neighbors’ opposition on Monday afternoon: “It is a Philadelphia problem and not a Norristown problem.”

“It’s bad news for Norristown,” said Gina Bottone. “It’s a black mark on the better reputation that Norristown is trying to build for itself. I don’t think Norristown should have to babysit Philadelphia’s problem children.”

Vision Quest officials and an attorney did not respond Monday to requests for comment on the proposal.

An emergency hearing on Norristown’s request for an injunction against the proposed youth housing and treatment, will be held at 1:30 p.m., Dec. 15, before a judge of Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. The hearing will be held at the Irvis Office Building, Courtroom 1.

The judge to hear oral arguments will be identified on Dec. 15 to avoid “judge shopping” by competing attorneys, courthouse personnel said.

Norristown Solicitor Todd Eisenberg said Vision Quest officials had said the proposal was for “over 100 youth.”

Edward Myslewicz, the press secretary for the state Dept. of General Services, declined comment Monday, saying, “since the matter is pending litigation we cannot get into any details.”

Myslewicz refused to discuss general details of the relationship between the department and Vision Quest and any other programs the department and Vision Quest might be involved with.

In a Nov. 26 letter to Norristown Zoning Officer Jayne Musonye, the director of the Bureau of Real Estate for the state General Services department had asserted the department’s right to use the building.

“The intended use is clearly a permitted use and also a necessary function that is critical to the delivery of services required by the (state Department of Public Welfare) DPW,” said Joanne Phillips, the real estate director. “The Department of General Services is advising Vision Quest that they have fully complied with their lease agreement with the Commonwealth and we are authorizing Vision Quest to initiate occupancy of Building 12 at Norristown State Hospital.”

That state letter prompted Norristown to seek the injunction, Eisenberg said.

State Rep. Mike Vereb, R- Dist. 150, said his opposition to the proposal started with “the lack of notification to the community.”

 “It just happened upon us. There was no notification and no information on how it will impact the (Norristown and West Norriton) communities.”

Vereb said he had requested a copy of the contract between the DGS and Vision Quest.

“They are taking a building and renovating it,” Vereb said. “I don’t think the state should be exempt from inspections just because it is the state.”

Vereb said state officials should be embarrassed that “this was done without the proper approvals. If anything happens on that property, Norristown will provide police, fire and official responses.”

Vereb concluded, “Communications on this was, at best, horrible.”

 Carl Rotenberg can be reached at crotenberg@timesherald.com or 610-272-2500, ext. 350.

“Cloud of uncertainty hanging over WSH lifted”

This article reverberates the latest update regarding Forensics in Pennsylvania not being privatized.  It is from the Warren Times-Observer, originally printed on March 22, 2008.  It also mentions some possible uses for what use to be doctors’ houses on Warren State’s grounds that were brought up at some point during the extensive discussions surrounding Warren State Hospital.

Cloud of uncertainty hanging over WSH lifted

By CHUCK HAYES chayes@timesobserver.com

The cloud of uncertainty which has hovered over the forensics unit at Warren State Hospital for the past year has been lifted. “It won’t be closed and it won’t be privatized,” State Rep. Kathy Rapp said on Friday.

Rapp said that she was notified of the decision on Thursday evening by the state Department of Public Welfare.

Rapp said the decision was made by Pennsylvania Welfare Secretary Estelle Richman in conjunction with the Rendell administration.

The forensics unit employs 50 people and Rapp said the transfer or elimination of those jobs would have had “a domino effect” on the local economy.

“It would have had a huge impact on the economy here.” said Rapp. “We needed to retain those jobs. I’m very pleased.”

The privatization or possible closure of the forensics unit had been rumored since last April and state officials confirmed in August that privatization of forensic units at Warren and Norristown state hospitals was being considered.

Rapp arranged to have a legislative policy committee hold a public hearing on the issue in Warren and said on Friday she felt the comments offered at that hearing “put pressure on the Department of Public Welfare” to reconsider.

The closing of the unit, said Rapp, could also have placed “a huge burden” on the Warren County Jail and local legal system.

In the event the unit had been closed, Rapp had prepared a bill designed to assure that adequate state funding would be provided for forensic unit patients no longer housed at Warren State Hospital.

In addition to the public efforts to not privatize or close the forensics units in Norristown or Warren, Rapp said there were also behind-the-scenes negotiations involving the state and state correctional officers union.

The Department of Public Welfare said on Friday that after meeting with union leaders, Richman was withdrawing the proposal to consolidate and privatize forensic units.

Under the terms of the agreement between the state and union, the forensic units at Warren and Norristown will remain, while services at Mayview State Hospital will be transferred to Torrance State Hospital after Mayview closes in December.

Warren State Hospital’s forensics unit serves 32 counties and Rapp said that the closing of the unit would have increased the travel burden for many patients’ families.

During her talks with Richman, Rapp said, there was also discussion of using the empty residences on the hospital grounds, formerly used by doctors, as transitional homes for patients.

The welfare secretary is following up on the possibility of using the residences, Rapp said. “Our prisons are filling up with people with mental illness and drug and alcohol problems,” said Rapp. “If we can utilize those houses, that’s great.”

Section: News Date Posted: 3/22/2008

[State Prison] “Guards fight state on privatization plan” [of Forensics treatment facilities]

  This article appeared on November 18, 2007 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  The article discusses concerns had by State Prison Guards in regards to the closure of Mayview and the possible privitization of Forensics Facilities at Warren Stae, Norristown, and Mayview.

Guards fight state on privatization plan

Sunday, November 18, 2007

HARRISBURG — The state prison guards’ union maintains that a new privatization idea by the Rendell administration is “a reckless gamble with public safety.”

Department of Public Welfare officials deny that, saying they’re looking for a way to reduce the cost of running three state mental hospital “forensic units,” which house mentally ill people who are facing criminal charges but need to be evaluated to see if they’re fit to stand trial.

These “patients,” as the department calls them, are now housed in special units at Mayview State Hospital in Allegheny County, Warren State Hospital in Warren County and Norristown Hospital in Montgomery County. About 330 guards supervise the patients.

The entire Mayview hospital already is scheduled to close at the end of 2008, with patients transferred to Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County. The Warren forensic unit would be shut down if the decision is made to privatize.

From August to October, the Welfare Department sought bids from private companies interested in running the two revamped forensic units. Three firms expressed interest:

• Virginia-based MHM Forensic Services Inc. It was founded in 1981 as Mental Health Management and now has offices in Atlanta, Nashville, Fort Lauderdale and other cities.

• GeoCare Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla., which was founded in 1997 as Atlantic Shores Healthcare and now operates hospitals for state agencies in Florida and New Mexico. It has other offices in California and Texas.

• Liberty Forensic Recovery Systems Inc.

Welfare Department spokeswoman Stacy Witalec declined to give any information about Liberty or any of the other bidders. She said the department has just begun to analyze the proposals to see if a private firm can operate the units less expensively than the state is now doing.

“We are actively reviewing the three proposals, but there is no set time line for making a decision on privatization,” said Mrs. Witalec.

A decision could be made by late January, which would permit Gov. Ed Rendell to announce it during his 2008-09 state budget speech in early February.

Percy Poindexter, a vice president of the Pennsylvania State Correction Officers Association, which represents the state workers at these units, claimed that it would be “a recipe for disaster” and “a severe misjudgment” to hire private guards for the units that house mentally ill prisoners.

He told a House panel last month that some private firms pay guards as little as $8 an hour. He said such guards “are continually at risk of exposure to diseases, infections and at times having bodily fluids thrown at you by an inmate.” Those positions aren’t the place to start cutting costs, he said.

Joan Erney, DPW’s deputy secretary for mental health and substance abuse services, told the same panel that it costs Pennsylvania $713 a day per patient to run its forensic units. Yet a report by the National Association of State Mental Health Directors showed the national average for such units is $388 a day, she said.

“Given the disparity between what Pennsylvania is spending compared to the rest of the nation, and in order to be good stewards of state money, it was necessary to find ways to control costs … and maintain the level of quality services that are necessary to operation the facilities,” Ms. Erney said. “We are currently engaged in an active procurement process … to solicit proposals to privatize [the] three forensic units we currently operate.”

The Welfare Department has a total capacity for 218 such mental patients at the three current locations, but as of late October, there were only 199. To provide security for those patients, there were 332 prison staff guards, far more than the number of patients, she said.

She said that about 500 patients are admitted yearly to the three facilities, with the average stay between 70 and 140 days. After evaluation, almost all of them are returned to the county jail where they came from, she said.

Mr. Poindexter, a state “forensic security employee” with 18 years experience in state mental hospitals and the last 10 years at Norristown, told a state House committee there had never been a successful escape from the Norristown unit.

“The same cannot be said for privately run facilities where escape rates are greatly higher than those at government-run institutions,” he said. Some privately run facilities also have high staff turnover rates, which Pennsylvania’s state-run units don’t, he added.

“Privatizing these units, which hold some of this state’s most dangerous criminals, is a severe misjudgment by the Rendell administration,” he added.

The Correction Officers Association also represents guards at the state’s 27 prisons, which house over 40,000 convicts.

Mr. Poindexter and another Correction Officers Association official, Roy Pinto, fear that hiring private guards for the forensic units may just be the first step when it comes to privatization. He said it appears that the Rendell administration “has quietly decided this will be the first toe in the water for privatization of all corrections in Pennsylvania.”

That would be a huge change, since the state has 27 prisons with 45,000 prisoners, or 5,000 more than the current capacity. Corrections Department spokesman Susan McNaughton said there is no consideration being given to privatizing prisons. House members at the recent hearing said they couldn’t support privatizing prisons.

Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.

First published on November 18, 2007 at 12:00 am