Westmoreland Courthouse construction project leads to overhaul of bail payment process

Westmoreland County Park Police Chief Henry Fontana said he’s unsure how his department became responsible for collecting bail on behalf of inmates asking to be released from jail at night or on weekend.

But that’s about to change, thanks in part to the $7 million reconstruction of the Greensburg Courthouse’s underground parking lot. Authorities are transferring responsibility for the Park Police to the Westmoreland County Jail in Hempfield.

The move is expected to streamline payments and speed up the release of inmates after regular business hours, when the courthouse clerk’s office is closed.

“It was actually a mess,” Fontana said. “There was no reason for the (county) police department to collect bail.”

The garage construction project is expected to last at least six months and required the closure of the yard and the main entrance on Main Street. Authorities moved the entrance and security checkpoint to a front door of the old courthouse complex, which had been closed to the public for decades.

That change led to an overhaul of the bail system, Westmoreland County Jail Superintendent Bryan Kline said.

Still, Fontana said he wants the park police removed from the process long before the construction project drives change.

The old system required family members or friends of inmates to drive between the jail and the courthouse. Park police officers coordinated with prison staff by phone and fax to exchange documents before collecting bail payments.

The process could take up to three hours, Fontana said.

“There was really no reason for us to be involved. It’s a time and money saver for us now,” Fontana said.

Large bonds and land bonds set by magistrates will continue to be posted to the courthouse clerk’s office during normal business hours.

Since the change, only three inmates have paid to the prison.

“Thanks to technology, the bond can also be posted online,” Kline said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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Elaine R. Knight