Berks jail guard to commissioners: 'I was furious with rage'

Correctional officer upset by previous comments

READING, Pa. - Another correctional officer at the Berks County Jail has weighed in on the facility's future by voicing his displeasure with two of the three county commissioners.

Patrick Murray reacted at the commissioners' meeting Thursday morning to comments made last week by Commissioner Mark C. Scott and Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach.

"I'll be completely honest," Murray said. "I was furious with rage and sick to my stomach at the last meeting."

"Based on my years as a commissioner and talking with our solicitor and talking with HR (human resources)," Scott said last week, "I have repeatedly been exposed to factual circumstances that provide a stark contrast to the claims of the representatives who have come here to tell us we should not privatize the Berks County Jail because that would jeopardize the welfare of the community, the inmates, and the employees."

Leinbach followed those comments by saying that he has warned Teamsters who have spoken at the commissioners' meetings that "they better be careful because for every example they've given of a bad actor at a private prison, we can give examples of bad actors here."

Murray said he and his fellow correctional officers deal with murderers and people with mental health issues at the jail in Bern Township every day.

"I, myself, am not a 'bad actor,'" Murray said. "I have saved individuals from suicide. I can't say the commissioners are bad. Just like if we have a few 'bad actors,' you can't say our correctional officers are bad. It's not how things work."

"The commissioners attempted to censor public opinion and opposition to their plan to privatize Berks County Jail by setting new rules at today's meeting," Bradly Kennedy, another correctional officer, said after the meeting. " Yes, we are all Teamsters members, but that is not why we show up to the weekly commissioners' meetings. We show up here as members of the law enforcement community, as concerned citizens, as individuals. When we choose to speak at these weekly meetings, we are expressing our views as such, and that should not be confused as being representative of the Teamsters union as a whole."

"I am still on record as not being supportive of privatizing the jail in any way, shape, or form, because I think all... all the things we're trying to do here and have been doing here in the county for many years would go by the wayside," said Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt. "I am involved in many of those committees and task forces to try to get people on the path to minimize the recidivism rate at the jail."

The county has hired a Philadelphia-based architectural and engineering firm to analyze the cost of renovation vs. construction of a new jail.

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