The Delaware County District Attorney’s office filed charges this month against five inmates who cornered and attacked a lone inmate in his cell at Delaware County’s George W. Hill Correctional Facility (GWHCF) last October.
The affidavits of probable cause paint not only a gruesome picture of violence in the facility, but according to sources deeply familiar with the ins and outs of the facility, the incident is emblematic of the kinds of complaints prison guards and their union have taken to county council when warning of dangerous conditions, low staffing, and nonexistent morale.
According to the narrative from the district attorney’s CID officer, the incident from Oct. 30 began after two inmates, Amir Taft and Karim Handy, got into an argument. Shortly after, Taft huddled with friends while Handy went back to his cell by himself.
“Several minutes later inmates Taft, Ahsir Lloyd, Saddiq Washington went entered [sic] the cell 201B, where Handy was. Those physically assaulted Handy in his cell, while inmate Kyree Washington waits outside the cell.
“Inmate Handy attempts to escape the assault in his cell, and Kyree Washington is observed choking Handy, as inmate Jahsere Cruz is kicking Handy as they attempt to push him back into his cell. Inmate Amir Taft is observed on video holding a jail manufactured weapon in his hand and is striking Handy numerous times. Kareem Handy then falls to the ground motionless,” the affidavit continued.
“While on the ground inmate Kyree Washington is observed stomping on the face of Kareem Handy. After the fight was over, inmates Saddiq Washington and Kahsir Bennet are observed cleaning blood from the floor in front of Handy’s cell.”
One source with knowledge of the inner workings of the prison said while the average citizen might be aware that some fights and violence are a part of prison life, this incident illustrates some extreme dangers that should be unacceptable.
“To break that down, that is saying the whole incident happened and they kept going because no one came to break it up. They stopped on their own, they even had enough time to clean up the blood and hide the weapon. Basically they found the inmate after he was already assaulted then had to review the cameras in order to find out who did it. So during this whole incident, where were all of the officers? I can’t even begin to explain how dangerous of an environment that is.”
Another source told Broad + Liberty that the unit where the assault is alleged to have happened houses the most dangerous inmates of the entire prison, but that the same unit has often suffered from low staffing.
The county declined to answer any questions about this incident, including questions about whether the assaults were in some way a staffing failure. The district attorney’s office did not answer questions about the two-month delay between the incident and the charges being filed.
The GWHCF moved from private management to government management in April of 2022. Two months prior, as part of the negotiated transition, the county installed its own warden, Laura Williams.
In December, Prison Employees Independent Union President Frank Kwaning made his second appearance in as many years before the Delaware County Council to put the frustrations and worries of his members on the record.
“The [union] members are as frustrated as they could be. So, through the members I am told to let you know that the council should step in. Go to the facility. Talk to the members. The morale is at its lowest level,” Kwaning said.
“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,” Kwaning said. “So please, on behalf of my members, we invite the council to step into the jail, and conduct investigations as to what is going on, especially with the correctional force. It is not the best. It is better you step in to address the issue before it gets out of hand.”
Kwaning used to be an employee of the prison but was let go as part of the transition to government management.
When he appeared before the county council in 2022, he was accompanied by a prison guard who said safety had deteriorated under government management, and raised stabbings as a particular concern.
“We are … in fear of our safety on this job,” Albert Johnson said at that time, according to the Delaware County Daily Times. “As of yesterday, two inmates stabbed. There have been more deaths in this prison since the county has come on. We are fearful for our lives with cells that do not lock, from inmates that come out when they want. We get feces, we get urine thrown on us on a daily basis.”
Annual data collected by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections does record assaults but does not differentiate among kinds, so gauging stabbings at any particular facility is difficult, if not unreachable task.
That annual assault data showed a rise beginning in 2019 but then exploding in the pandemic year and has not abated since. While the 2022 assault data is nearly the same as the 2021 data, the 2022 average daily population was lower in 2022 by about 100 persons, DOC data shows.
Stabbings have also plagued Philadelphia facilities recently. One inmate was stabbed in November at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center, and two more were stabbed last Monday at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.
Finally and most tragically, officials say an inmate was killed Sunday, also at Curran-Fromhold. The inmate had been stabbed, but also had multiple other traumas on his body, according to a news release from Philadelphia police.
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