Political actions have consequences. Sadly, it is the taxpayers that suffer the most when decisions are made based on ideological agendas only meant for personal political gain.
Similar to what the City of Philadelphia is currently experiencing with far-left progressive agendas hurting the economy with new taxes and impacting residents’ wallets, the working people of Delaware County are also falling victim to a county council that is driven by an ideological fervor for a “progressive” agenda rather than good government and common sense.
A prime example is the now all-Democratic Delaware County Council’s decision to revert the professionally managed George W. Hill Correctional Facility to a government-run operation. More than 25 years ago, County Council determined that a public-private management partnership with a contracted professional company would provide services superior to the county alone. A professional operator provides access to more resources, provides better programming and treatment for incarcerated individuals and, most importantly, operates more efficiently on the behalf of the county’s residents and taxpayers. These points have been proven to be true for more than two decades now in Delaware County.
If Delaware County’s facility operated at its current capacity at the rate of Philadelphia’s daily cost per prisoner, Delaware County taxpayers will foot the bill for an additional $22 million a year.
However, Delaware County’s leadership is steering its constituents down a path that will lead to significant tax increases just to pad their political agenda. County Council has repeatedly shown its disregard for the senior citizen that struggles to pay their tax bill, or those families coping with lost income as a result of the COVID-19 shutdowns. It is clear their priority is advancing an overly ideological agenda even if it ultimately means the imposition of regressive real estate tax increases.
The taxpayers’ tab is already starting to pile up. Just recently, County Council approved $410,000 to hire consultants to conduct a study to find out what it will cost the county to transition the contractor-managed facility to a government-run facility. This, even though just two years ago, the county spent $100,000 to conduct a similar study, which determined a public-private operation is more efficient than a government-run facility. Perhaps this council simply did not get the answer it was looking for the first time around?
You don’t have to look far to see how the costs will continue to add up. The new consultants, who also work with the Philadelphia Department of Prisons, are presumably well aware that the City of Philadelphia’s daily cost per prisoner is $109 compared to $76 in Delaware County. If Delaware County’s facility operated at its current capacity at the rate of Philadelphia’s daily cost per prisoner, Delaware County taxpayers would foot the bill for an additional $22 million a year.
In addition, a government-run facility means government – and, by extension, taxpayers – are held completely liable for all lawsuits filed against it. Complaints about all prisons are a daily occurrence. Jail house lawyers and their “slip and fall” associates enjoy suing the public. A lawsuit settled last month against the Bucks County jail cost that county $12 million. The Montgomery County jail faced a $1 million lawsuit two years ago by an inmate that was beaten by prison guards. The Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project recently filed a lawsuit against Philadelphia’s jails for COVID-related issues.
Currently, if a lawsuit is brought against Delaware County’s correctional facility, taxpayers are held harmless and the management company assumes all liability. One wonders if Delaware County’s leaders would entertain holding its taxpayers harmless – probably not.
In addition to the being more cost effective, Delaware County’s jail is well-managed and safer than government-run facilities across Pennsylvania. This isn’t just an opinion. This is an objective assessment derived from national and state oversight organizations and agencies.
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) stated in its latest inspection report that the George W. Hill facility “achieved a full compliance which is a distinction that is earned when a facility and staff have met or exceeded the statewide correctional standards. Staff should proud of their accomplishments and are encouraged to maintain this level of compliance.” Due to this achievement, the facility was exempt from the normal one-year inspection cycle.
At a time when Delaware County wasn’t able to control the spread of the virus in many of its own communities, or its own government-run long term-care facility, the Hill Correctional facility had the resources to effectively control the virus for its own population.
The American Correctional Association recognized Delaware County’s facility as being one of only three accredited facilities in Pennsylvania, meaning the rest of the state’s county-run facilities cannot even pass their rigorous criteria. The National Commission on Correctional Health Care also accredited the facility for its compliance with national health services in jails.
Furthermore, an analysis of the PADOC’s data found the George W. Hill facility is much safer than the average in-house county prison in Pennsylvania. The state’s Extraordinary Occurrence Statistics show that, “when compared to all other counties, Delaware County saw fewer average deaths, escapes, contractions of diseases, total uses of force, and assaults on inmates.” Additionally, the study found that on average, an inmate was nearly twice as likely be subjected to a use of force, and three times more likely to experience a physical use of force from corrections staff outside of Delaware County than inside the Hill Correctional Facility. Overall, extraordinary incidents are two-and-a-half times more likely to occur in PA prisons outside of Delaware County.
It is also noteworthy that the Delaware County facility has been able to manage the COVID-19 virus far better than any other large county-run facility in the Commonwealth. At a time when Delaware County wasn’t able to control the spread of the virus in many of its own communities, or its own government-run long term-care facility, the Hill Correctional facility had the resources to effectively control the virus for its own population. For instance, the total number of inmates who tested positive in Delaware County is significantly less (at least half) than Philadelphia and Montgomery counties.
Combining the cost savings, multiple accreditations, safety measures and ability to manage a pandemic – any reasonable person would ask why is Delaware County pursuing this change now? Why is this suddenly an urgent policy priority? Local media outlets, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, have access to these same facts. Yet, in a recently published article on this issue, they choose not to report on the true performance of Pennsylvania’s only county jail that is managed by a professional contractor. Why don’t reporters ask the hard questions to the council members about the facts they are relying upon to make this decision? It is hardly likely this is a mere oversight. Could it be laziness? Ineptitude? Or perhaps these reporters share council’s ideological zeal for a “progressive” agenda, even at the expense of sound reporting and evidenced-based journalism?
Unfortunately, the working people of Delaware County will only realize the true answer when they can no longer afford their homes or sustain their businesses.
Wally Nunn is the former Chairman of Delaware County Council and Delaware County Jail Oversight Board Member.