Editor’s note: The following story contains descriptions of suicide which may be disturbing to some readers.

Top Delaware County officials are refusing to comment on the county prison’s use of a controversial legal technique to keep its death count low, dramatically undercutting the government’s promises to issue in a new era of transparency and accountability after taking back management of the prison from a private contractor in 2022.

A clear picture of that understanding fully emerged from the most recent meeting of the county’s Jail Oversight Board (JOB), in which Warden Laura Williams told board members there had been a “critical illness” in the facility on January 13, but neglected to tell them the inmate eventually died from that incident.

All of this comes against a two-year backdrop in which state and federal officials as well as journalists have been digging further into the idea of “hidden deaths” at jails and prisons.

In Delaware County’s examples, when a prisoner’s life is threatened by a medical emergency such as a drug overdose or suicide attempt, the prison moves aggressively to have the person’s bail revoked or to have charges dropped, at which point the person is no longer technically in custody. If the person later dies — even just hours after having been inside the facility — the death can’t be counted on the prison’s annual statistics because of the custody technicality.

Although another example of this approach had surfaced before, it came into stark relief because of a January incident, and the subsequent correspondence between Broad + Liberty and the county.

Weeks before the JOB meeting in February (a meeting that reviews January statistics and events), Broad + Liberty reached out to the county to confirm the death of an inmate, William Rodriguez Rivera, stemming from an unknown emergency on January 13.

The county’s reply was terse.

“Cause and manner have not been determined. Toxicology is still out and may take another 3-6 weeks,” county spokeswoman Adrienne Marofsky said in an email. Nothing in that email suggested or hinted that the death was not the responsibility of the facility.

Then at the Feb. 13 JOB meeting, Warden Williams referenced the Rivera incident using wording that acknowledged something happened — but not a death on its watch.

“In the month of January, we had two major incidents that are worth discussing or reporting outside of the typical operations of our agency: We had a critical illness at the hospital on January thirteenth,” Warden Williams told the JOB, while then moving directly on to talk about power problems at the facility. No further comment ever came up about the “critical illness” ever again, either by Williams or by any member of the JOB.

Upon hearing this presentation, this reporter inquired with the county about the apparent discrepancy.

“Can the county please explain why on the one hand it confirmed a death of a [George W. Hill Correctional Facility (GWHCF)] incarcerated person, but the warden’s report only mentions a ‘critical illness’?” Shepherd asked the county.

“William Rodriguez Rivera did not pass away while in custody of the County,” Marofsky replied. “The County has no further comment.”

After this email exchange, yet more confusion unfolded.

Sometime after the Feb. 13 JOB meeting, the county posted the full January statistics, and more than one of those pages indicated that a single death had indeed occurred.

The county chalked it up to a clerical error.

“The Warden’s initial report and accompanying graphic presented during the January Jail Oversight Board Meeting classifying this as a ‘critical illness’ is accurate,” Marofsky said in response to a subsequent inquiry. “The court, with the agreement of the District Attorney,  released Mr. Rivera from custody while he was in the hospital and before his death. Accordingly, consistent with the requirements of the Death in Custody Reporting Act, the death of William Rodriguez Rivera is classified as non-custodial.

“The minutes, which were later added to the Jail Oversight Board website, contain an error and will be amended,” Marofsky concluded.

Given the seriousness of the technique — quickly pressing to release an inmate so the person isn’t technically in custody when they pass away — Broad + Liberty did not request comment through the county spokesperson as usual, but instead sent requests for comment to all five members of the county council: Chairwoman Dr. Monica Taylor, Vice Chair Richard R. Womack,  Christine A. Reuther,  Elaine Paul Schaefer, and Kevin Madden, who chairs the JOB.

“When an incarcerated person has a significant event inside the GWHCF, like an overdose, perhaps a trauma like a knife wound from a fight, or a suicide attempt, and then that person dies later, should the warden at the very least explain to the JOB that the person died as a result of an incident that originated in the GWHCF? Why or why not?” Broad + Liberty asked, among other questions.

None of the five members provided any response.

Similar questions were sent to various members of the Jail Oversight Board, including County Common Pleas Court Judges Margaret J. Amoroso and George Pagano, Sheriff Jerry L. Sanders, and Controller Joanne Phillips. None replied.

A webpage for the prison says its values are, “Integrity, Courage, Ethics, Honor, Respect, Service, Duty, Professionalism, Innovation, Transparency, Accountability, Sustainability, Equity, and Correctional Excellence.”

Technique used in other instances

The technique has cropped up before.

In the 2022 suicide of Patrick Langworthy at the GWHCF, emails show Williams setting about trying to get Langworthy released less than fifteen minutes after his medical emergency began.

Conversely, it wasn’t until about 20 hours after the emergency began that Williams would reach out to Langworthy’s family to let him know he was in the hospital, according to Langworthy’s mother, Pam.

In the email thread, Williams noted that “If he [Langworthy] is released from custody, family can be involved and bedside without issue.” But Broad + Liberty is not aware of anything that would have prevented Williams, at a minimum, from notifying the family immediately, regardless of his custody status.

It’s not clear if Langworthy was counted as a death on the county’s annual statistics. The month-by-month breakout of the 2022 statistics submitted to the Department of Corrections shows two deaths counted in June of that year, which would be correct if Langworthy were counted.

The Delaware County Daily Times noted a discrepancy between the number of deaths at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility (GWHCF) reported for 2022. The paper reported there had been five deaths, but the annual statistics submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections only counted four. 

“It’s not clear why the county and state prison death figures for George W. Hill are not the same. The discrepancy would be a suicide,” the paper noted at the time. 

Efforts to discern why a discrepancy occurred, as well as to discern which specific person of the five deaths at the facility was not counted have not been successful.

If Langworthy was counted as a death for the prison, it raises the question why the warden would have chosen to do so, given that all of the legal mechanisms were in place for the prison not to count it — especially given the county’s enthusiasm for remaining “consistent with the requirements of the Death in Custody Reporting Act” as the county’s spokeswoman described.

This February, another inmate died from a medical emergency, but was also clearly released well before she died.

Christine Childress was transported out of the GWHCF on Feb. 8, just one day after she was admitted. Her court docket indicates her bail was changed to “unsecured” on Feb. 9, meaning she was technically released. She lingered in the hospital and died a week later on Feb. 16.

Whether the county counts Childress as a death won’t be known until the March meeting of the JOB.

Williams used technique in Allegheny County

During her tenure at Allegheny County while working as a Deputy Warden, Williams demonstrated a clear expertise on the issue of in-custody deaths versus out-of-custody.

In an Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board meeting in October 2021, Williams had to answer several questions from board members about how inmates are classified as being in custody or out, and how it relates to deaths.

“So, if there is another situation, someone overdoses at the jail, or has another medical condition, is transferred to a hospital where maybe a week later they pass away. Would we still get a report on that?” board member Bethany Hallam asked. “I am trying to figure out when there are deaths or hospitalizations at the jail that we are not being informed of, and when there are deaths or hospitalizations at the jail that we are being informed of. If you could just kind of draw a clear line in that for me.”

“There are no deaths in the facility that you have not been made — advised of. Any person who has been declared dead within this facility, that has been an immediate notification,” Williams said in response. “I don’t know how to say this in a different fashion other than there are people who may be released from our care, we have a quick release process, we are a central booking agency, people experience their preliminary arraignment here, they could be released, and within the next couple of days could be hospitalized. 

“We do send individuals to the hospital, where the magistrate determines that they are a ROR or a non‐monetary bond release, that do not have to come back to the facility. They are released. I do not have any outcomes on those individuals when they are not in our legal custody because I am not entitled to that information. I do not know how to give you the answer that you are seeking.”

Hallam pressed with the question: Does the prison ever advocate for release?

“When somebody is incarcerated, and in the hospital, they are subject to reduced access to their family. If somebody is imminently or severely critically ill, we do find that it is appropriate if the courts are willing to consider that family be able to be involved without any supervision of law enforcement,” Williams said. “That way they can continue to make those determinations. There have been a number of circumstances in which the jail has advocated for the release of individuals and we will continue to do so.”


In November, PennLive reporter Joshua Vaughn and Pennsylvania Institute for Nonprofit Journalism reporter Brittany Hailer published a lengthy investigative report detailing the dozens of prison deaths that are likely undercounted in the commonwealth year after year.

“This investigation turned up dozens of deaths that weren’t properly reported across Pa., but because of breakdowns in the system, there could be even more. There is nothing in place to ensure these deaths are counted, or even investigated,” the pair wrote.

The reporting highlighted a case out of Bucks County that appears all too familiar to the Delaware cases presented here.

“[Joshua] Patterson’s death does not appear on any official death registry, and officials in Bucks County did not publicize that he died or that they had arrested a man who they say caused his death,” Vaughn and Hailer reported.

“Patterson survived for a little more than two days after he was found and rushed to the hospital. That was enough time for county officials to have his bail modified and release him from custody,” they continued.

“Since Patterson was not in custody at the moment he was pronounced dead, Bucks County did not report his death to state or federal authorities.”

Vaughn and Hailer called these “hidden deaths.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, however, argued that the law is the law. When Broad + Liberty proposed a hypothetical to the department in which an inmate overdosed while in prison, but died days later after being released, the department said:

“Yes, this would be enough for a county correctional institution to appropriately NOT count this as a facility death for self-reported statistics [sic] that the DOC collects under PA Code Title 37, Chapter 95 §95.242. (2),” a spokesperson said.  

“I would note that there are other reasons a release of this nature would occur, other than a tactic used to under report. In many cases, the release is to relieve the burden of staffing a security detail for an individual that is determined to not be a threat to the community — due to the person’s exigent medical circumstances. Another point that could be made, is counties would have challenges reporting a death after a release under these circumstances because the county is no longer a custodian of the individual, and there would be no obligation for the hospital to report the death to the county correctional institution.

[Editor’s note: Two light edits were made to the quote above from the Department of Corrections for clarity and punctuation purposes, but those edits do not alter in any way the content or intent of the quote provided to Broad + Liberty.]


The Vaughn and Hailer reporting caught the attention of State Senator Amanda Cappelletti, who currently has a bill that would attempt to place more accountability on prisons for these kinds of deaths.

Cappelletti, a Democrat, represents the 17th Senatorial District in Montgomery and Delaware counties.

Senate Bill 996 would mandate prisons to report at death of an inmate “while the individual is on a compassionate release, medical furlough, bail or any other release from custody, if the death occurs…within three days of the release[.]”

It would also establish a Deaths in Custody Review Panel to “to review deaths of individuals in custody and propose recommendations for the prevention of future deaths of individuals in custody.”

An emailed request for comment to Cappelletti about the deaths at the GWHCF was not returned.

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

2 thoughts on “Delco prison uses technicality to keep its death count low”

  1. Cell doors that don’t lock, guards selling drugs to inmates, a “hot looking” but unqualified female warden trained as a social worker, inmates using iPads intended for legal research to get drugs, sexual encounters between inmates and guards, neglect of chronically ill inmates, and now hidden deaths. What more could possibly go wrong in this hellhole of a Delco prison run by Councilman Kevin Madden? Oh right…there’s that.

Leave a (Respectful) Comment

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