“The holier-than-thou hypocrisy of big media companies who lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugarcoat the lie, is why the public no longer respects them.” – Elon Musk
In a recent Philadelphia Inquirer article by Vinny Vella, Delaware County was given accolades for taking back control of the George W. Hill Correctional Facility from a private operator. According to the article, the new warden, Laura Williams, was drawn to the job “by the willingness of the county leaders to bring about change at the county jail, which has been beset in recent years by controversy surrounding inmate deaths, attacks on guards, and alleged mistreatment by supervisors.”
The article goes on to characterize County Councilman Kevin M. Madden’s thinking on the change: “Williams’s hiring is just the beginning of reforms at George W. Hill.” The Executive Director of the Delaware County Coalition for Prison Reform, Tonita Austin said she was particularly encouraged by Williams’ background.
Perhaps the reporter, the councilman, and the activist were unaware of some information about Laura Williams’s prior employer or perhaps they chose to keep the public from knowing about. Before taking on her new job, Williams was Chief Deputy Warden of the Allegheny County Jail. Did the Inquirer or, for that matter, the County look at the operations of the Allegheny Jail? Had they done so, they might have discovered some interesting facts.
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One of the reasons Williams was chosen, according to Vella, was to address inmate deaths. Had the reporter or the county leaders bothered to do a modicum of research they might have read this from the March 13, 2022, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Ten Allegheny County prisoners — males with an average age of 46 — died from April 11, 2020, to Oct. 9, 2021, a high number for a jail this size. At least one was a suicide.” If reducing the number of deaths is important should the public have been informed about these numbers? If the activists are really worried about the welfare of the prisoners, and not ideological purity, should they have known this?
Here at Broad + Liberty last week, Todd Shepherd detailed numerous other reports of problems at the Allegheny County Jail under Williams.
Councilman Madden had this to say on the day that the County took over the prison operation:
“I am extremely proud of the thoughtful and deliberate work that has gone into this process and want to thank everyone — from the community leaders and activists who have called for this change for years, to the outside consultants who worked with us on the handover.”
The Councilman’s “thoughtful and deliberate work” led him to hire someone whose work history ought to have given pause even to someone less thoughtful and deliberate.
Let me give you another piece of information which might call “thoughtful and deliberate work” into question. According to statistics compiled annually by the Pennsylvania State Department of Corrections there were more than three times the number of “extraordinary incidents” per prisoner — that is, deaths, escapes, use of force incidents, assaults, and emergencies — at the Allegheny County Jail in 2021 than there were in the then-privately run Delaware County Prison.
Just last week, an inmate was murdered by his cellmate at the now-publicly run prison. If this is “just the beginning of reforms at George W. Hill,” I hate to think about what comes next.
Perhaps Elon Musk had a point when he said the mainstream media only give us enough information to “sugarcoat the lie.”
Wally Nunn is the former Chairman of Delaware County Council, a former member of the Delaware County Jail Oversight, and is currently the chairman of the Broad + Liberty board of directors.