The Times-Tribune

County’s secrecy gag-worthy

New prison scandal unfolding

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The day might come when Lackawanna County is managed well enough to prevent a massive county prison scandal from erupting every six months or so. But for now, the county commission­ers will settle for court-enforced silence about their inability to achieve that state.

Attorney James Doherty, representi­ng the county commission­ers, asked a federal court last week for a gag order on attorney Matthew Comerford, who represents four women who contend that correction­s officers sexually abused them when they were inmates in the county prison.

According to the commission­ers, who also are members of the county prison board and defendants in the lawsuit, Mr. Comerford is attempting to “poison the jury pool” by publicly commenting on his clients’ allegation­s.

Those allegation­s, however, are only the latest in a long line of accusation­s against the prison and some of its personnel. Most of the earlier allegation­s already have been proved. County personnel have gone to jail, politician­s responsibl­e for prison administra­tion have been punished at the ballot box, the county has paid settlement­s and sporadical­ly has lost millions of dollars worth of detention contracts because federal officials have worried about inmates’ safety while detained in Lackawanna County.

It is astounding that this administra­tion would try to stifle anyone’s free speech rights, much less those of four women who claim to have been abused by county workers. Commission­er Patrick O’Malley has used his position to bolster his political standing by issuing congratula­tory proclamati­ons with the frequency of Little League participat­ion trophies. Mr. O’Malley also has publicly questioned the validity of the women’s allegation­s, but apparently that doesn’t poison the jury pool.

Before the court imposes silence on the women through their lawyer, it should consider that official silence is a preconditi­on for the very atrocities that previous proven cases already have exposed at the prison. The solution isn’t more silence; it’s transparen­cy.

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