The Delaware County Council voted Tuesday night to double the contract it has with a recruiting company working to fill positions at the county’s George W. Hill jail and prison, now that the prison’s management has been converted from private to government.
If the contract runs its full course, the county will have committed just shy of $1 million dollars — $925,425 — to help staff up the prison in the transition to deprivatization.
County Manager Howard Lazarus said the county was still developing its own “proof of concept” for creating its recruitment and staffing strategies that it could feel safe with before ending the work with staffing company Juno.
“So, this is, in a way, [the contract extension] is a ‘belt and suspenders’ to make sure that we can continue to address really the one remaining area of large concern, which is the number of corrections officers that we have,” Lazarus said.
Lazarus was also keen to note he had been asked by Councilmember Kevin Madden to monitor the prison staffing levels closely in the coming months so that the level of services required by the contractor might be revised downward, if possible, thereby saving some money on the contract. Madden is the chairman of the county’s jail oversight board.
The question was ultimately approved by moving it to the consent agenda, which essentially is “a tool used to streamline meeting procedures by collecting routine, non-controversial items into a group whereby all are passed with a single motion and vote.”
Jails and prisons have faced staffing shortages for years now, but the problem has become exacerbated by an even tighter labor market that has emerged in the wake of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic.
At a June “budget amendment” meeting of the council, Lazarus also noted that pay for corrections officers had been boosted by about 50 percent, “from around $14 and a half dollars to about $22 dollars[.]” According to an earlier budget document, salaries for the prison are the largest standalone expense in running the facility (page D8 of the document).
At the same time, the need to extend the recruitment services serves to underscore once again the fact that the county, upon taking control of the prison, began to withhold information about the staffing levels, citing security concerns.
When the prison was under private control, the management was required to report staffing levels in publicly accessible meetings. The company would also face financial penalties when the prison was understaffed.
Less than one month after the county took control, one inmate allegedly killed another. It’s unclear if staffing levels played any issue in that incident.
In May, the county celebrated the graduation of its first class of correctional officers, swearing in sixteen new people.
The county also just recently discussed approving a consulting contract of close to $90,000 for renovating or constructing a new juvenile detention facility.
The current juvenile center “has been closed since March 2021 after the 60-bed facility lost its state license and was closed by Delaware County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Kevin F. Kelly following allegations of physical, sexual and psychological abuse” from a public defender and assistant public defender, according to the Delco Daily Times.
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