Despite pledges to increase transparency, officials with Delaware County’s prison are no longer providing updates on the staffing levels at the county prison, reversing a standard practice for the nearly three decades while the prison was privately run.
Furthermore, according to a letter from the lawyers for the Delaware County Jail Oversight Board (JOB), the county does not intend to reinstate the practice anytime soon for the George W. Hill Correctional Facility.
After the April meeting of the JOB, a former member of the board wrote to county officials asking why staffing levels were no longer updated.
Attorneys for the JOB replied: “[A]t this time, we cannot provide a public monthly accounting of staffing rates nor can we publicly disclose total positions or vacancies for security staff at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility as these matters implicate both personnel matters and matters [of] public safety issues for staff, inmates, and citizens of Delaware County.”
The letter went on to say that in future JOB meetings, “matters concerning staffing rates at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility will be discussed in executive sessions,” meaning they will effectively be kept from the public.
The transparency backtrack comes just as the county has retaken management control of the prison after nearly three decades of being run by a large private prison company.
It also arrives as the prison is investigating the murder of one inmate by another on April 22.
In previous meetings of the JOB, the warden or other jail officials would give detailed information on staffing levels, such as overall staffing percentage and number of vacancies.
The private management companies frequently paid penalties to the county for not being fully staffed.
The prison’s new warden, Laura K. Williams, told the JOB in April that four classes of academies for new correctional officers were in progress, one of which has since graduated.
“We anticipate 35 full-time officers to begin full duty in May, which will provide some necessary relief,” towards an ongoing staffing shortage, Williams said at the April meeting.
“So, I want to be clear, because transparency is important, that we are not at an ideal staffing complement, and that we are actively working towards gaining additional staff,” she added.
The county declined to respond to questions for this article.
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Staffing concerns are always concerns at prisons, but those concerns have been exacerbated in the wake of the coronavirus.
When a prisoner was repeatedly stabbed in September at a Philadelphia jail, “[c]orrections officers and prisoners said the situation was a consequence of intensifying staff shortages at the Philadelphia Department of Prisons,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“An Inquirer analysis of a week’s worth of recent staffing rosters revealed that 20% to 30% of shifts on a given day were filled by officers and supervisors working overtime,” the report also said. “Many officers put in 16-hour or even 22-hour workdays.”
Also in September, two guards in Delaware County were injured by assaults by inmates, which also drew complaints of chronic understaffing.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com. @shepherdreports