For years, Democrats running for Delaware County Council told the public how dangerous and corrupting the “profit motive” was when it came to managing the county’s prison.

What’s been left unsaid until now is this: Government’s inherent hubris, desire to protect its reputation, and its refusal to admit when it’s wrong can be every bit as corrosive, often worse.

That assertion seems self-evident in the wake of Broad + Liberty’s reports highlighting the destructive behind-the-scenes chaos at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, which Democrats converted from private to government management in the spring of 2022.

What we have now is a Jail Oversight Board punting on the oversight, and a local media — along with so-called good government groups — complicit in turning a blind eye, having fled the scene now that the private-management boogeyman has been slain and friendly progressives have replaced the despised Republicans in county government. 

When the prison was still under private management, an Inquirer article noted the facility had twelve deaths in a seven-year period — as though that was so obviously scandalous it needed no commentary.

Compare that to the tenure of the county’s chosen warden, Laura Williams, who was hired on Jan. 31, 2022. Since then there have also been twelve deaths, many of which could have been avoided.

Twelve deaths between 2002-08 compared to twelve deaths in a 25-month period since 2022. One of those is obviously more scandalous than the other, and it’s the one the Inquirer has failed to report on.

Consider these facts:

About two weeks after county government fully took over all facets of GWHCF’s management on April 6, 2022, an inmate was murdered in his cell by his cellmate.

On June 4, 2022, Andrew Little took his own life in the prison. Our reporting showed that some personnel alerted management to the fact that the lock on the door was oftentimes not working. It wasn’t working again when the Little emergency was discovered, and an officer had to run back to the control room to get keys — something that could have cost two precious minutes when a life was in the balance.

Little’s mother said she wasn’t notified until two days later.

On June 15, 2022, Patrick Langworthy took his own life in the prison. Our reporting unearthed documents showing there was an effort to get Langworthy some kind of medical help about eighteen hours before his attempt, but that effort was denied for an unknown reason. Just as inexplicable was the document showing that the prison didn’t reach out to local investigators to review the scene and circumstances so as to conclusively rule out the possibility of foul play.

Langworthy’s family says they weren’t notified until the day after.

In February of 2023, Mustafa Jackson was found facedown in his cell, wearing only a diaper. A gunshot wound from years before made Jackson a paraplegic, and as such, he had to catheterize himself. The autopsy notes his cell was strewn with new and used catheters, and that he died from urosepsis, a common infection for someone who has to catheterize.

Urosepsis can have a sudden onset, but it’s more likely it descended on him over the course of several painful days, raising legitimate questions about the quality of care he received. With no family to advocate for him, these questions will likely never be answered. His manner of death was practically medieval. 

In June of 2023, a female “weekender” inmate checked into the facility, obviously severely impaired under the influence of some drug, according to an incident report. Rather than alert the inmate’s condition to medical staff, a sergeant left Tiffany Koser alone in a holding cell for an hour without notifying anyone on the medical team. By the time the sergeant got back, Koser was dead.

On January 13, 2024, emergency responders took William Rodriguez Rivera out of the facility, and he died later. Much of those circumstances are still unclear.

However, the county made clear that it felt no compunction against saying Rivera’s  death wasn’t on their watch, because he had been “released” from custody soon after EMTs took him from the scene.

Essentially, the county has tacitly made known it’s on board with using a technique that other media reports have already labeled “hidden deaths” within Pennsylvania’s prisons. The technique so galled State Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D – Montgomery/Delaware) that she has introduced legislation that would curb the ability of prisons to wash their hands of the consequences of deaths like Rodriguez Rivera’s.

But that’s of no matter to either Delaware County’s Council, or to the Jail Oversight Board, all of whom did not respond to emails asking whether they approved of such counting techniques.

There are yet more horrors, but we can’t go into them all here.

All the while, the Delaware County Coalition for Prison Reform has suddenly gone quiet. The group used to vocally advocate for prisoners, particularly those from historically marginalized communities, who suffered unnecessarily — prisoners like Mustaffa Jackson.

Now? Now, Delco CPR (Get it? They’re as lifesaving as CPR!) pops its head out of a hole once a year to give spin to the Delco Daily Times that five deaths per year really isn’t so bad.

The whole mess has laid bare the notion that Delco CPR was merely a ruse to gin up support for Democratic candidates for county council. Now that those candidates are incumbents, it’s better to stay quiet.

Amid all of this, the union representing the correctional officers and individual officers themselves have appeared before county council no less than three times — at great career risk for those officers speaking individually — to alert them to plummeting morale and increasing danger.

It is also worth noting that this has come at great expense to taxpayers. Despite the fact that the county has reduced the number of prisoners from 1,800 to 1,200, the cost per prisoner per day has skyrocketed from $76 to $127, according to our internal analysis. Indeed, taxpayers are on the hook for this debacle, to a tune that far exceeds a county consultant’s most dire predictions

This, at a time when out-of-control spending by the county government has created a more than $60 million structural deficit likely to result in property tax increases of thirty percent or higher in coming years. We call it the “Incompetence Tax.”

The reality is the county’s effort to run the prison could yet be a success, but it won’t be as long as Williams remains at the helm. Her work in Allegheny County was troubled enough, and county council imported those troubles into its own halls. All of Broad + Liberty’s reporting seems to come back to her.

We understand that the Jail Oversight Board will occasionally delve into difficult matters in executive session, which they are certainly allowed to do under law.

But the JOB’s failure to bring any of these tough decisions and conversations in front of the public is yet another failure of the transparency Democrats long insisted was so lacking in their county. Why can’t the JOB ask Warden Williams how she decides if she’s going to call a judge and try to get an inmate “released” just after the inmate attempted suicide in her prison — but is still alive. Why can’t the JOB ask Warden Williams in front of the public why it takes her more than a day to notify family members of a fatal emergency?

We further understand that politicians make issues about things and then hypocritically abandon them after they’ve been elected. That’s politics.

But here, hypocrisy is costing lives. Delaware County Council chose this shame.

One thought on “From the Editors: Delco Democrats must own spate of deaths at county prison as media and activist group strategically disappear”

  1. The link you provide, regarding the mate murdering his cellmate, doesn’t work. Try this one instead:

    This is a real tragedy. Not only is Mr. Funkhouser dead, Mr. Boccella is facing murder charges and a much longer prison sentence.

    None of this had to happen. Mr. Boccella should not have been sharing a cell with Mr. Funkhouser. My understanding is that Mr. Boccella is a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of delusions and violence. Delco either knew or should have known this but they went ahead and put Mr. Funkhouser in danger. It’s just not right.

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