Two inmates at the Delaware County prison died by suicide during a two-week span in June, according to the warden’s report to the county jail oversight board.
This marks the first time the George W. Hill prison facility has seen two suicides in a single year since 2015. From 2016 though 2021, the jail only witnessed two suicides in that entire six-year stretch.
Broad + Liberty asked for the names of the individuals and circumstances of each incident, as well as whether any lawsuits have been filed.
“No additional information is being publicly released regarding the suicides,” county spokeswoman Adrienne Marofsky said in response.
The deaths happened just months after the day-to-day management of the prison reverted back to county control in April, after it had previously been managed by private entities for almost 30 years. Also in April, an inmate at the prison was killed by a cellmate.
In September, Delaware County Council approved the purchase of so-called “suicide blankets,” which are specially designed to make it more difficult for an inmate to use their bedding to harm themselves. The total cost was close to $350,000, according to the Delco Daily Times.
Suicides at the prison were an often-cited reason for moving management control back to government hands, and media reports about the county’s first hire for warden in the management takeover frequently cited Warden Laura K. William’s background in mental health.
“[T]he George W. Hill Correctional Facility will be led by a new warden whose background in behavioral health made her the ideal choice for the new era at the beleaguered facility in Thornton, county officials say,” a report from the Inquirer noted.
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Meanwhile, the prison budget has gone up since the management transfer while the general population has declined. In 2019, the prison budget was just over $48 million, while housing an average daily population of about 1,800. In 2022, the prison budget climbed to $55.7 million, with an average daily population of slightly more than 1,300. (2022 average population source: Warden’s report, Jan-Oct.)
The tragedies also raise the prospect of lawsuits. One of the suicides from 2015 at the Hill facility resulted in a $7 million settlement out of court.
Inmate suicides have also roiled the community in Yeadon, as two suicides at the jail of that borough have led to protests. Family of the first suicide victim from July have filed suit against Yeadon police, according to WHYY.
Bucks County has also struggled with suicides at its county prison this year.
“In the first six months of this year four people died while in custody at the Bucks County Correctional Facility,” the Bucks County Herald reported in September. “Three of those deaths were suicides and one inmate died of natural causes, according to officials. Two of the deaths occurred in a single month.”
The prison, like many other incarcerating facilities across the nation, has also struggled with staffing in recent years, especially in the wake of the pandemic.
Update: The original version of this story incorrectly sourced the report of two suicides to the minutes of a jail oversight board meeting. The correct document for sourcing is the warden’s report.
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