A private firm hired to assess the proposed deprivatization of the Delaware County George W. Hill Correctional Facility said the move is “clearly” feasible, but the current operator of the prison says the analysis was incomplete and an “apples to oranges,” comparison.
As Delaware County has moved closer to deprivatizing the George W. Hill prison — the only privately run prison in the commonwealth — it hired a consultant, CGL, to perform a financial assessment. CGL delivered the assessment in a slideshow to the Jail Oversight Board Thursday morning.
As a baseline, CGL showed that the county’s outlays to the private operator, GEO Group, was $46.6 million in 2020. That figure was down by about $2 million from the previous two years, largely because of a smaller prison population due to the Covid-19 pandemic. If the facility were at full population, something that hasn’t happened in the last three years, the county’s outlays to GEO would be closer to $50 million annually.
CGL then produced three different budget scenarios for the county, ranging from $49.9 million down to $43.1 million, using different assumptions.
“Based on the numbers we see and the analysis we’ve done, we believe the evidence clearly demonstrates deprivatization is feasible, and the initiative will not place the county at significant financial risk, and in fact, has the potential to reduce current costs,” said Karl Becker, senior vice president of CGL.
We believe the evidence clearly demonstrates deprivatization is feasible, and the initiative will not place the county at significant financial risk, and in fact, has the potential to reduce current costs.
GEO was not allowed to participate directly in the presentation but did submit written comment to the board in advance of the meeting.
“The study fails to provide a complete picture of the actual costs,” said David Byrne, GEO’s facility administrator.
“The $9 million in transition costs (equipment and additional administrative staff) are presented as one-time costs, instead of recognizing that many of these costs are recurring costs, such as management oversight, equipment replacement, etc.” Byrne added.
GEO also argued that “comparison data between Delaware county and statewide data for all 67 county jails demonstrates that the GW Hill facility is safer than government-operated facilities, including fewer inmate deaths, use of force, and assaults on inmates.”
A 2018 audit by the state substantiates at least some of that claim, as the facility was shown to be in “full compliance” such that it earned the privilege of avoiding an audit in the following year.
CGL’s Becker told the board the soonest the county could prudently announce a formal decision to deprivatize would be in August. With a 180-day notification required to terminate the contract, GEO would not be fully out of the facility until March of next year.
Delaware County Councilman Brian Madden, who heads up the Jail Oversight Board, said it’s most likely that the county would transition with GEO in phases, keeping some services while slowly dissolving others over time.
The $9 million in transition costs are presented as one-time costs, instead of recognizing that many of these costs are recurring costs, such as management oversight, equipment replacement, etc.
The most expensive scenario of $49.9 million presented by CGL assumes keeping staff at current levels, outsourcing the food service and health care, but also giving an across the board raise of six percent to all staff. It also assumes a full population.
The third and least expensive scenario of $43.1 million assumes a much lower daily population of 1,450 inmates, compared to the maximum population of 1,883 used in the first two estimates. That reduction would allow the county to close an entire housing unit, which would reduce overhead costs.
During the pandemic, the GWH facility averaged around 1,200 to 1,300 inmates, much lower than pre-pandemic average populations.
The second and third scenarios also imagine spending $1.6 million on new welfare and behavioral health programs, which is likely to be a focus of the county’s if it takes over operations.
“Currently over six out of 10 inmates at GWH have been there before,” county spokeswoman Adrienne Marofsky told Broad + Liberty in March. “We can do better. And doing better would mean a reduction in the prison population, and a reduction in the cost to the taxpayer.”
Wally Nunn, a Republican and former county councilman who helped privatize the prison in the 1990’s, says the current regime is imagining low hanging fruit where there is none.
“I would be willing to put the programs in the Delaware County prison up against the programs of any of the other prisons in the Southeastern part of Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, Montgomery county, Chester county,” Nunn said. “And they’re very significant costs.”
Nunn also recently pointed to an abuse scandal at the Delaware County juvenile correctional systems for what he sees as evidence that government-run jails aren’t always more competent or humane, as deprivatization supporters frequently argue.
Nunn took out a large advertisement in the Delco Daily Times to counter portions of the CGL presentation.
He has also argued that the county is severely underestimating the costs of lawsuits. Under the current arrangement, GEO is responsible for liability lawsuit costs, including settlements. The county has said that insurance policies will cover most of those costs, but Nunn says the county is failing to account for attorney’s fees.
Eliminating privately run prisons has been a popular policy for Democrats generally, as evidenced by President Biden’s recent executive order to terminate all federal private prison contracts.
The Montgomery County Correctional Facility has a maximum bed number of 2,080 and its annual budget is currently $42.7 million, according to county spokeswoman Kelly Cofranscisco.
The Bucks County Correctional Facility has about 700 “permanent” beds but can be expanded up to 866 “if you count all temporary housing areas,” according to county spokesman Larry King. The BCCF budget is just over $42 million.
Democrats in the county have been eager to end the private management of the facility after winning all five seats on the county council in the 2017 and 2019 elections. Eliminating privately run prisons has been a popular policy for Democrats generally, as evidenced by President Biden’s recent executive order to terminate all federal private prison contracts.
The CGL analysis was one of two consulting contracts the county awarded to analyze and prepare for the all-but-certain county takeover. Those two contracts together totaled $410,000.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at tshepherd at broadandliberty.com, or use his encrypted email at shepherdreports at protonmail.com.