Lancaster County courts are delaying the start of Lancaster County Prison sentences in an effort to mitigate a recent COVID-19 outbreak at the jail.
In an order signed by President Judge David Ashworth on Tuesday, start dates for prison sentences were pushed back 60 days.
“(Warden Cheryl Steberger) has advised us that additional measures need to be taken to reduce and/or maintain the population at the prison so they can mitigate the recent outbreak,” Ashworth said in an email. “Oftentimes, in less serious matters, non-incarcerated people are sentenced and their reporting date is deferred to a later date to allow them to ‘get things in order.’"
Ashworth said the step gives corrections staff a chance to focus on curtailing the epidemic inside the prison and prevent potential exposure of any new prisoners.
The order is not likely to involve individuals sentenced for felony crimes. Ashworth said “in theory” the order could pertain to felony cases, he noted it is rare for a Common Pleas judge to defer a reporting date in a felony case, which are sentenced at the Common Pleas level.
“Most of the cases we are talking about are from the (magisterial) level and none of those cases would be felonies,” he said.
Ashworth did not have an estimate on how many individuals this change would impact.
As of last Thursday 182 positive cases had been detected at the prison since the beginning of the pandemic, with 147 considered “active positive.” A rash of cases began at the prison in early August, with more than 150 cases being detected since then.
Steberger was not immediately available to update these figures.
Ashworth’s order also mandates that individuals arrested on bench warrants before 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, be transported to the courthouse and held by the sheriff’s office pending a hearing, rather than being held at the prison; no domestic relations or fines and costs warrants will be executed until Nov. 1; and no proceedings will be held for any individual who is within 14 days of release from the prison.