For months, the Delaware County Council has been making steps to take over the day-to-day administration of the George W. Hill prison and jail, the only privately run correctional facility in the commonwealth.
When that happens, the county intends to run the correctional facility at somewhere about 70 percent of the prison’s original capacity. The 1,880 bed facility would instead hold only about 1,400 inmates, according to comments at the monthly jail oversight board meeting held Tuesday.
The board was discussing study results from a consulting firm, CGL, that illustrated three hypothetical scenarios. In the first, the county would run the prison close to how it is run now: close to capacity, fully staffed, but would give across-the-board raises to staff in an effort to reduce staffing turnover.
The county intends to run the correctional facility at about 70 percent of the prison’s original capacity. The 1,880 bed facility would instead hold only about 1,400 inmates.
Scenario two proposes eliminating an estimated 48 full-time jobs, some of which the county feels are redundant or unnecessary, while investing in new programs aimed at reducing recidivism with the prison still near capacity.
And scenario three again reduces staffing, but assumes a lower population of 1,450, which would allow for the “reduction of additional 20 [full-time employees]” because the lower population would close an entire housing “unit” within the facility.
Majid Alsayegh, principal of Alta Management LLC and a jail oversight board member, told the rest of the board that aiming for something close to scenario three was most likely.
“I think what we’ll recommend to the county once the decision is — if the decision is made to deprivatize — that we would recommend that the county go with…the best option is scenario three, for the county,” Alsayegh said.
“But that can’t happen overnight. It would take time to implement some policies in coordination with all of the justice agencies: the courts, the district attorney’s office, the public defender.”
The prison has already reduced staff in recent months due to employee turnover and a lower inmate population because of the pandemic, according to recent discussions of the board.
Because the proposal requires cooperation from other agencies, Delaware County Common Pleas Court Judge John J. Whelan asked if those agencies were ready to assist.
“Those scenarios would take some buy-in from various criminal justice agencies like the district attorney, the public defender, of course the courts and probation and parole,” Whelan said. “Is there going to be an attempt to negotiate that buy-in prior to any type of transition to deprivatization?”
“The CJAG — criminal justice advisory group — has met a couple of times,” Alsayegh said in response. “And that is one of the areas that is helping look at the processes that are used by all of the criminal justice agencies and working together as a team to identify areas where information can be shared more efficiently, where the courts and prison system can operate more — in a more integrated manner, in terms of how all the information between the two flow.”
GEO submitted another comment, contesting some of the findings of the CGL presentation. The comment was a 19-page slideshow. One of the board members asked that the county post it to the jail oversight board website along with previous comments GEO has submitted.
“We also want to make it clear that we do not dispute the county’s legal authority to terminate the contract with six-month’s notice, but we do dispute CGL’s flawed and misleading analysis and the implications that the facility is poorly managed,” GEO interim vice president John Oliver wrote to the board in an email.
‘We do not dispute the county’s legal authority to terminate the contract with six-month’s notice, but we do dispute CGL’s flawed and misleading analysis and the implications that the facility is poorly managed.’
In the slideshow, GEO claimed that the CGL study “improperly implies that GEO’s costs to the county are too high,” “wrongly suggests that GEO’s performance is not superior to other counties,” and “avoids presenting true cost exposures from legal liability and inmate healthcare.”
GEO provided a copy of the comments and slideshow to Broad + Liberty.
Other critics of the plan have said the county has lost sight of how difficult it is to run a prison and is overestimating their ability to do so. Those critics have pointed to a recent scandal in which new allegations of abuse have emerged from the county’s juvenile justice program, especially from within the juvenile justice detention facility.
Somewhat ironically, the county council just agreed to a temporary contract for GEO to run the juvenile detention facility in the wake of the scandal when a judge ordered the facility to be closed after the abuse allegations were uncovered.
“I will say I’m far from convinced that this is the right long-term approach, and I am conscious of the fact that this is a short-term agreement,” county Councilman Kevin Madden said. Madden is heading up the deprivatization effort. “I will support this on the condition that it’s a short-term fix while we figure out what the longer-term solution is going to be here.”
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.