After repeated complaints about low morale at the Delaware County prison, numerous current and former employees of the correctional facility say management’s removal of “shift splits” continues to push morale lower, is exhausting an already thin staff, and is continuing to keep turnover high.

When a correctional officer is already working their assigned eight-hour shift, oftentimes management must assign the officer an eight-hour overtime shift that begins immediately at the end of their current shift — in essence creating a sixteen-hour day.

When splits were allowed, an officer could call another employee and split the mandatory eight-hour overtime shift with the second worker. Each worker would take four hours of the overtime shift. 

The upshot is that while two people may have had to work longer than their regular shift, neither of them had to push through a sixteen-hour day that left them exhausted and with only eight hours to go before their next shift started.

“This is what preserved the officers. This is what got us rest,” one source with intimate knowledge of the prison and its management told Broad + Liberty. The source requested anonymity in order to be able to speak freely about a contentious issue between management and staff.

“These officers are worn out mentally, emotionally, verbally, and you spit and kick them when they’re down instead of giving them a helping hand,” another source said about taking away split shifts.

Yet another source said officers also must take a mandatory 30-minute unpaid lunch break each shift. Because of that, the source estimates that back-to-back shifts are seventeen-hour affairs, leaving the officer only seven hours of off time before their next shift begins.

Numerous sources told Broad + Liberty that Warden Laura Williams removed split shifts as one of her first major decisions upon the management takeover of the George W. Hill Correctional Facility (GWHCF) from private management in April 2022. 

Those same sources said shift splits were regularly included in union contracts with GEO, the private prison management company that ran the prison from 2017 until the government deprivatized the prison in 2022. Delaware County’s prison was the last privately run correctional facility in the commonwealth. 

The county declined to respond to questions about the issue for this article.

For the past two Decembers, correctional officers or union representatives have gone before the county council to express their frustration with the new government management.

In October, the Delaware County Prison Employees Independent Union entered into a temporary agreement with management. But just weeks later, union president Frank Kwaning went to the county council meeting with more warnings, even though the county had agreed to a raise.

“The morale is at its lowest level,” Kwaning then said in December. “One may have thought that with this interim agreement that we have with the $3 raise that we have gotten — and we thank the council for agreeing with the union for the $3 raise — we were of the view that with the $3 raise, the morale was going to be up. But because of the treatment that has been meted out to the members, the morale is at its lowest, at best.”

Any person who goes to work for the GWHCF signs an agreement that they understand management must have the right to assign eight-hour overtime shifts. The dangerous and high stress environment of operating a prison means employees are frequently sick or injured, quit suddenly, or extreme events at the prison can call for an “all hands on deck” response, all of which makes staffing difficult.

As one source explained, overtime shifts are ordinarily mandated to those officers who already have the lowest accumulated overtime in the pay period.

But as that source also alleged, the removal of shift splits has quickly demoralized new cadets once they learn they have to work a sixteen-hour day with only eight hours to recover before their next shift.

The source said that set of circumstances creates a downward spiral.

“[The new cadet] will say, ‘Listen, I’m walking. I don’t care.’ But what that does is it calls the next person to get mandated [overtime]. So this is the constant cycle that we deal with when it comes to splits,” the source said.

In essence, the source is saying while the absence of split shifts are pushing new hires out the door, it’s also piling more and more overtime on the most loyal and experienced staff who say they have already been stretched to their breaking point over the last two years.

In December 2022, County Councilman Kevin Madden, who chairs the Jail Oversight Board, acknowledged overtime was a problem with staffing, but didn’t directly address split shifts.

According to the Delaware County Daily Times, “Madden also noted mandated overtime contributing to retention challenges, which he said will improve as the facility becomes fully staffed[.]” 

Two years of overtime figures from the county illustrate the stress.

In November of 2022, the county had spent roughly $3.9 million on overtime at GWHCF. By November 2023, that figure reached $6.4 million.

Staffing was such a problem for the government that within five months of the management changeover, the county extended a six-figure contract to a recruiting company in order to help get the staffing numbers to appropriate levels. Warden’s reports from 2022 show the county offered $2,000 sign-on bonuses to new hires from at least August to December. But sources say high turnover and thin staffing continued to plague the facility throughout all of 2023.

George W. Hill Correctional Facility Warden Laura K. Williams (far right, no badge), stands with an academy of correctional officer cadets in May of 2022. Photo credit: Delaware County

Under private management, staffing percentages were a normal discussion of the monthly meeting of the jail oversight board. Since the transition, however, the county has declined to give staffing percentages or other related statistics, citing security reasons.

In 2021 as the transition from private prison to public was still under consideration, Madden was a fierce critic of GEO Group, especially as it related to staffing and safety issues. He said some of the staffing issues were a result of corporate greed.

“They have not been shy with canvassing Delaware County with their marketing and their position. I wish they would spend some of that money that they’re putting into a public marketing campaign …toward their staff, perhaps we would have less turnover issues and less issues with security, but they’re free to do what they want to do as a for-profit entity,” he said.

In the nearly two years of government management, the jail has witnessed ten deaths, a total not seen in any two consecutive years under GEO. Meanwhile, the prison’s budget has ballooned to $53 million, several million more than what a consultant estimated the county would spend if it took over the management and lowered the prison population, which the county has done.

Update: The original version of this article was updated to include information that back-to-back shifts also included mandatory lunch breaks.

Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at, or use his encrypted email at @shepherdreports

One thought on “Delco prison staff say low morale comes from removal of ‘shift splits’”

Leave a (Respectful) Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *