For Stephen Klampfer, drifting had become a sort of natural state. Because of his severe schizophrenia, he’d wind up on the streets even when his family rented him an apartment. Occasionally, he’d drift into jail — first for some outburst or physical altercation when he was in a psychotic state, then for the inevitable violation of probation when he failed to report as required or tested positive for drugs.
In April 2018, after Klampfer, 50, had failed three drug tests, he was incarcerated for the last time at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility (MCCF). He received a hearing in June 2018, where he was found in violation of probation, sentenced to time-served to 12 months, and ordered released on parole as soon as an address could be verified.
“It was a prerequisite of the penal system that he had to have a place to go to,” his sister Maureen Gregg said. She and her sister Jeanne Flannery live in California and New Mexico, respectively, and weren’t in a position to intervene. “He was completely caught in the middle, where no one could work it out for him.”
Klampfer, of Oreland and Norristown, had a twin brother, Jamie, who died of an overdose in 2011.
In the end, an address was never confirmed for Klampfer, said a person familiar with the case, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Instead, “he fell through the cracks."
He remained incarcerated until March 30, 2019 — when he was housed on a medical unit with another man, Joseph Hodum, 38, who was also jailed on a probation violation and who, the source said, was also schizophrenic. That morning, according to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, Klampfer was still sleeping when Hodum attacked him, punching and stomping on his head more than 20 times. Klampfer died April 13 at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, two days after he would have “maxed out” his 12-month prison sentence and been released.
Hodum, charged with murder and still incarcerated at MCCF, died by suicide July 27. Officials said Hodum was not on suicide watch at the time of his death.
For Klampfer’s family, the questions surrounding these deaths are numerous and haunting. They want to know why the county was unable to identify housing for Klampfer for nine months, why two schizophrenics who were apparently unstable would be housed together, and why corrections officers, in a control booth immediately adjacent to the cell, were not able to intervene until after Hodum had punched and kicked Klampfer 20 times.
“We can’t get any information,” Flannery said. “We sent a letter asking for information. They don’t respond, and so we don’t know what happened. The only information we have is ... he was put into the medical unit because he had a psychotic episode, and then the next call we got was from the chaplain at the jail.”
Julio Algarin, the MCCF warden, referred most questions to the District Attorney’s Office but said officers responded “within minutes."
He also said medical officials would have determined that it was safe to house the two men together.
“It’s not unusual to double-cell people in a medical section," he said. "That would be based on how the individual is classified and how the medical department feels he would get along with someone else or not.”
The policy of detaining people who do not have a verified address, critics say, keeps individuals experiencing homelessness or those whose supportive housing and disability benefits were terminated because of their incarceration jailed far longer than is necessary — sometimes, as in Klampfer’s case, for months on end. According to the Montgomery County public defender’s office, half the county jail population is there on a probation or parole detainer.
Montgomery County probation chief Michael Gordon did not respond to a request for comment.
Pamela Howard, administrator of Montgomery County’s office of behavioral health — which, along with the probation department and the public defender, was part of a group working on reentry for incarcerated people with mental illness — said she could not answer questions about Klampfer’s case or why housing was not identified. She said county officials hold biweekly meetings in the jail to identify such individuals and coordinate with community-based service providers — but she acknowledged coordinating those efforts remains a work in progress. As around 12% of the county jail population has a diagnosed serious mental illness, she said, the needs are great.
“When that person is in the correctional facility, there may not be the right spot in the right program at that time. So that could be a barrier," she added. "Sometimes it’s figuring out what the person needs and getting people to plan together — and that’s the process we’re trying to fine-tune. Unfortunately, the resources aren’t always as many as would meet the need.”
For Flannery, though, a key question remains why officials didn’t act to release Klampfer for more than nine months — but then, two days after the attack, as he was on life support at Penn Presbyterian, they terminated his parole.
“If you’re going to serve as a receptacle for mentally ill people, you’re going to have to have some flexibility in how you treat them, as compared to the hardened criminal,” Flannery said. "We really needed for the system to work and he would have been alive today.”
A spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office said jail operations are outside the office’s purview.
David Stephens, a psychologist and expert on correctional mental health, pointed to a study that found people with mental illness tend to remain in jail close to three times longer than other prisoners.
“A lot of times, judges think they tend to be safer in jail than out on the street, that they get more treatment in jail, so it’s not that unusual for judges to keep them in jail because of their mental illness.”
He said it’s not uncommon for individuals with schizophrenia to be housed together, but there should be frequent assessments, as mental states can change quickly.