An inspection and report by the Pennsylvania Prison Society for the Delaware County prison sheds new light on circumstances at the embattled facility, even though the many claims by prisoners were taken at face value without corroboration, and some of the findings appear contradictory.

Five members of the prison society made a visit to the facility on March 12, and compiled the report dated April 16. The report does not make clear if the visit to the George W. Hill Correctional Facility was unannounced or scheduled. The report does say the prison society members were accompanied by Warden Laura Williams and members of her staff, indicating the visit was likely scheduled.

The Pennsylvania Prison Society reaches back to the nation’s founding in 1787. “Authorized by Pennsylvania statute, Prison Society staff and volunteer Prison Monitors may enter any correctional facility in the Commonwealth and meet privately with incarcerated people,” the society says in its report. It is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

The final report highlighted four areas of progress and three areas of concern.

The positive findings include, (quoting):

  • Continued provision of significant out of cell time
  • Improved access to medical care and counseling services
  • A well-functioning commissary system
  • Broad availability of basic hygiene items

Concerns included:

  • Continued reports of staff assault and unprofessionalism
  • Multiple issues with prison provided tables including lack of access
  • Insufficient food

The report appears to be entirely based on interviews with prisoners and did not offer any examination of any statistical data, such as the annual report of “Extraordinary Occurrence Statistics” each county jail submits to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

The county declined to comment on the report. Emailed requests for comment to the Prison Society were either not returned or were not successful.

Certain elements of the report give a glimpse into the prison’s continued staffing problems.

For example, 21 of the 28 inmates interviewed “reported that corrections officers (COs) are not available at night; 23 out of the 29 people we asked reported that COs are not available on the weekends.”

The prison’s staffing has become more opaque after the county assumed full managerial control of the prison two years ago after nearly three decades of private management. During the years of private management, the contracting agency reported staffing percentages every month. Once the county reassumed control, it stopped reporting those numbers publicly.

Inmates interviewed also complained about abuse by prison staff, but again, those complaints were not individually corroborated. “Seventeen out of 24 men we interviewed reported witnessing or personally experiencing staff assault,” the report said.

One source with intimate knowledge of the day-to-day workings of the prison said they believe that while assaults by staff on inmates is not completely nonexistent, the source said their anecdotal observations suggest that the other kinds of assault — inmate-on-inmate, or inmate-on-staff — are more prevalent.

The identity of the source is known to Broad + Liberty, but has been granted anonymity in order to speak candidly about circumstances.

That observation would be backed up by the 2022 “Extraordinary Occurrence” statistics, even though that data is slightly more than a year old. In 2022, the county reported 87 incidents of assault by inmates on staff, 79 assaults of inmate-on-inmate, and just five of staff-on-inmate. The 2023 statistics should be released soon by the Department of Corrections.

The report also applauded the prison saying there had been a remarkable improvement at the intake area. In a previous visit in 2021, the prison society “observed extreme overcrowding and unsafe conditions in the reception area.”

However, “[d]uring this most recent walk through, the reception area was empty, suggesting timely processing.”

The same anonymous source referenced earlier speculated that the prison likely had knowledge of the visit, and cleared out the intake area in preparation for the visit by the Prison Society. The county and Prison Society did not respond to that question from Broad + Liberty.

The county hired its new warden on January 31, 2022, and Broad + Liberty has counted twelve deaths emanating from the facility since that point. That number is certain to be lower than what the county will report to the DOC. Previous reports from Broad + Liberty have explained how the county is using a method of releasing certain inmates — specifically those that have a medical emergency but who are quickly transported off the prison grounds — so that if the inmate passes away later, the death will not need to be counted as an extraordinary event because the inmate is not technically in custody.

Editor’s note: For more on Broad + Liberty’s reporting on the Delaware County prison, see our recent webinar, held on April 18, 2024.

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

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