An inmate at Delaware County’s George W. Hill Correctional Facility died two Saturdays ago, and a county spokesperson said the manner and cause of death are still to be determined.
The death of William Rodriguez-Rivera, 44, marks the eleventh death at the facility since Warden Laura Williams took over in February 2022, when the county was moving away from decades of private management and putting management back in the government’s hands.
County spokeswoman Adrienne Marofsky said the toxicology report is still pending, and may take another three to six weeks before a cause of death can be positively confirmed.
The pace of deaths at the facility has quickened under government management.
In the last seven years of private management under the GEO Group from 2015-2021, the facility witnessed seventeen deaths — or about 2.4 deaths per year, according to annual statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
Under the two years of Warden Williams’ leadership, the facility’s death rate has more than doubled, at about 5.5 deaths per year.
That figure of 5.5 deaths per year deserves the added context that the higher fatality rate is also coming amid a lower daily population. In the last several years of management by the GEO Group, the average in-house daily population was often 1,600 or 1,700, according to DOC statistics. Under government management in 2022, for example, that average daily population was closer to 1,300.
Amid the increase in the death rate, current staff and union representatives say morale has sunk to an all-time low. Current officers say the removal of “shift splits” — where a guard could split a mandatory eight-hour overtime shift with a coworker — has increased turnover, and has piled on extra hours and stress for the facility’s longest-serving and most loyal employees.
Meanwhile, many of the deaths at the facility raise serious questions about the level of care and competency at the GWHCF.
For example, a woman who was serving her sentence through weekend stays at the prison died of an overdose while at the intake department of the facility in June. A document obtained by a Right to Know Law request showed that even though the intake officer noticed the woman was probably under the influence of a drug when arriving at the facility still put the woman in a holding cell and then left her alone for an hour or more.
In 2022, a paraplegic inmate, Mustaffa Jackson, died of urosepsis. The county said Jackson’s death was a “delayed homicide” because he had been shot years before which caused the paraplegia. The paraplegia, in turn, forced Jackson to use catheters which likely caused the infection that led to urosepsis.
Jackson was found alone in his cell facedown in a diaper, and new and used catheters were strewn about his cell. Another document indicates that responding personnel weren’t able to begin chest compressions until five minutes after his emergency was discovered.
When Williams was selected as the county’s first warden after deprivatization, she said she was drawn to the job by the potential to create new change.
“There’s a misconception that people who work in these institutions don’t know what the right next steps are; we do, but we just don’t always have the means or resources to carry them out,” Williams told the Inquirer. “To have a whole county behind this effort, this facility could be an example of putting our money where our mouth is, and lift reforms out of the criminal justice system.”
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