Community service crew completes project at Bern Cemetery

READING, Pa. - Berks County prisoners and Mike Zelner, community service officer, have received praise for completing a project for the Bern Cemetery Company.

At Thursday morning's meeting of the Berks County commissioners, Chris Reed, the cemetery company's president, said the prisoners recently completed a project started in 2015 that involved cleaning, sanding, priming, and painting the more than 100-year-old iron fence at the historic Bern Cemetery.

"One of the fairly common questions I get throughout the year is, 'Why don’t you have prisoners doing work projects?'" Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach said. 

Leinbach said that although it is something done regularly, many people aren't aware of it.

The jail's warden, Janine L. Quigley, said she is often asked the same question, but due to limitations and cost, there is just one community service crew.  

"We've had this crew for over two decades, and we're extremely fortunate to have the same correctional officer with us for 19 years on that crew. Correctional Officer Mike Zelner has been the leader of this crew," Quigley said. "The one crew has been able to touch a lot of boroughs, townships, and nonprofit groups."

The crew of six to eight inmates also spends 12 to 15 hours per week at the recycling center bundling, and repackaging materials. Other projects the crew has completed include roofing, fencing, demolishing buildings, and weed whacking.

"One of the things that I find is valuable beyond the work that we're doing in the community is what the inmates get," Quigley said. "When Officer Zelner goes out, he's not just standing there in a corner watching the six to eight inmates on that crew. What he's doing is he's role-modeling. He's teaching them skills. He's teaching them to work through maybe a stressful time."

"To say that we are pleased is really an understatement, not only because of how it looks, but really the professionalism of Officer Zelner," Reed said. "I thought it was very important that we came here today to show our appreciation not only for the program, but for Officer Zelner's work and how he managed his crew and managed this project for us."

In other business, Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt said there was a better than expected attendance on Election Day. The estimate was an 18 percent turnout, but it was 26 percent. He said he feels that it was due in large part to the tax referendum question. He said 78 percent of the voters voted yes in favor of change to the tax structure in Pennsylvania.

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