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Somerset County Jail employees promoted to warden, deputy warden

April 3, 2019

After an executive session, the Somerset County Prison Board unanimously and with no comment voted Tuesday to fill the warden and deputy warden positions with longtime jail employees.

Dennis Vought, who worked as a correctional officer in the Somerset County Jail for more than 20 years before being named deputy warden in December, will step into the warden slot on Saturday. The warden position has been vacant since Feb. 5, when the prison board fired then-Warden Michael Porter for various reasons, including making jail policy and staff changes before going to the board for approval.

Jail Lt. Brian Pelesky, who began working in the jail when he was 18, became a chief correctional officer at 19 and moved rapidly up the facility’s ranks over the remaining eight years, will fill the deputy warden position, also beginning on Saturday.

“Denny and I are on the same page,” he said.

Vought was interviewed when he was promoted to deputy warden but was unavailable for comment Tuesday. Both men said they want to be “an asset” to the jail, community and other county departments.

Pelesky already has plans to improve staff training, including learning more self-defense techniques that would be useful in the jail’s narrow spaces.

At the prison board’s last monthly meeting, Pelesky suggested that the board adopt a written policy dealing with suicide after two guards were commended for preventing a suicide attempt by an inmate. Soon after that meeting, Pelesky presented the board with a proposal for review.

On Tuesday, the board unanimously approved the policy, which describes procedures for assessing and reporting inmates who are or may be at risk of suicide.

He credits much of his growth and insight into the jail and its workings to former Warden Gregory Briggs, who left that position for an associate warden job in Dauphin County on Oct. 19.

“Greg really sparked my interest in being a young professional,” he said.

He said he is still learning from his mentor. Both serve on the executive committee of the Pennsylvania Prison Wardens Association.

Vought will be paid $52,000 as warden. Pelesky’s salary was set at $45,182.

In other matters Tuesday, the board learned that the jail’s average daily population was 114 in March. The average length of stay was 20 days, with six inmates released within 24 hours, 13 within two days and 13 within seven days. The jail’s population on Tuesday was 112, with 89 men and 23 women.

The board is scheduled to meet again at 8:30 a.m. May 7 in the county commissioners boardroom in the Somerset County Office Building.

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