The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

June 14, 2013

‘Help wanted’ sign is out at county jail

Warden Jeff Gill plans to retire

MERCER COUNTY — Because the county’s wording on all employees who leave their jobs for any reason – termination, resignation or retirement – is intentionally vague, outgoing Mercer County Jail Warden Jeffrey Gill wanted to be sure people know he is retiring and parting ways with the county on the best of terms.

Commissioners Thursday approved the “separation from employment” of Gill, a 35-year veteran of the Mercer County Jail, whose last day will be Aug. 9.

Gill, 58, said the time is right for him to call it quits and focus on his “honey-do” list, getting two children married this summer and spending some time visiting his grandchildren in North Carolina.

Gill oversaw the transition of the jail from “a small jail to a real jail,” he said, recalling some of the biggest changes he’s seen, including an exploding inmate population that tops more than 300 on a summer day and the professionalism that is now, but was not always, the hallmark of corrections officers.

When he started as a “turn-key”, one of the not so endearing terms for a prison guard, Gill said there weren’t many requirements to working in the prison. Today, largely through his encouragement, more than a third of the 90 corrections officers have college degrees.

He moved up through the ranks to a counselor, deputy warden and became warden in 2005, he said.

“When I first started in the system, there were no females here. There was the warden and his wife, who was known as the matron. And they lived at the jail. And they still do that at the state level,” he said.

Now, more than a third of the jail employees are women, he said.

The prison population changed through the years too, he said, and the jail began seeing more “seasoned and repeat offenders, many with drug and alcohol problems. So many with drug and alcohol problems now,” he said.

And women are no stranger to jail cells either. “We used to go weeks without a female inmate. Now we are housing 10 to 12 at any one time,” he added.

“Most recently we’re seeing an influx of gang mentality and those problems. Really violent inmates with personalities that almost border on being sociopaths. The jail is starting to provide a lot of treatment services that its never did before,” Gill said.

He lowers his head and barely answers when asked about the worst part of his job. “I don’t like to talk about it. Suicides. That’s really rough,” he said.

Commissioners and the county prison board will be collecting resumes and hunting for a replacement candidate in the coming weeks. The job, which pays between $54,000 and $76,000 depending on experience, requires a degree in criminal justice, management experience, medical certifications, financial accountability and the ability to maintain records.

“Running a prison is an art form. It’s a small city in there and you have to stay on top of the problems. It’s a lot of responsibility. And I’d like to say that I’ve always been proactive, but reality is a lot of times you find yourself being reactive instead,” Gill said.

Sheriff Gary Hartman, prison board President Tom Amundsen and commissioners John Lechner, Brian Beader and Matt McConnell all thanked Gill for his service.

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