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DOC announces superintendent shakeup; SCI-Somerset to have new leader

July 27, 2018 GMT

The State Correctional Institution at Somerset will have a new superintendent months after a corrections officer was killed by an inmate.

Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel announced Thursday that SCI-Smithfield Superintendent Eric Tice has been named the new superintendent of SCI-Somerset. Current Superintendent Melissa Hainsworth is being transferred to SCI-Laurel Highlands, and Jamey Luther, SCI-Laurel Highlands superintendent, will replace Tice at Smithfield.

The change takes effect Monday.

Wetzel said in a press release the changes are the result of the agency’s need to respond to the long-term effects of the fatal beating of Sgt. Mark Baserman.

“What we’ve learned from previous major incidents is that a facility doesn’t really begin to fully heal until there is a change in leadership,” Wetzel said in the release. “We have complete faith in these leaders and are making these moves in order to allow SCI-Somerset to continue the healing process.”

Baserman, a 60-year-old corrections officer at SCI-Somerset, died in February from injuries he sustained when 22-year-old inmate Paul Jawon Kendrick, of Pittsburgh, knocked him to the ground and kicked him in the head with Timberland brand boots, according to police. Other assaults by inmates on state prison employees have been reported since then.

Wetzel called Hainsworth the “primary force behind the stabilization of SCI-Somerset following the tragedy.” He said she is a strong superintendent whom he expects will serve SCI-Laurel Highlands well.

Wetzel said Tice’s “strong security background and leadership” at both Huntingdon and Smithfield will help further the healing process at Somerset. Luther, a supervising superintendent for the central region, will continue serving in that capacity at SCI-Smithfield and provide guidance to Hainsworth and Tice.

Tice did not return a telephone call seeking comment Thursday, and the Daily American was told Hainsworth was not available for comment.

State Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar, R-Somerset Township, has proposed a sweeping prison reform package that includes lowering the threshold for an assault when the act is committed by an inmate on staff, prohibiting inmate access to boots and mandating two guards with autoloading rifles per guard tower. Under the proposal, inmates who are convicted of assault would lose parole eligibility and face a mandatory five-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine.

He said the change is encouraging.

“But the underlying issue is still the policies of the Department of Corrections and until the secretary of corrections changes those policies or we change them legislatively with my bills, our staff members are still in jeopardy,” he said.

State Sen. Pat Stefano said he encourages the new superintendents to take feedback and suggestions from those in harm’s way seriously.

“I hope this is the first in several steps aimed at making SCI-Somerset, and all of our correctional facilities, a safe place for our corrections officers to work,” he said. “I am hopeful with new leadership taking a fresh look at the policies and procedures in place that our corrections officers can be given the tools necessary to do their job in a safe and effective manner. This cannot be just a cosmetic change, but part of a systemic change in how we manage our corrections institutions.”