This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.
The cause of death for an inmate who died at the Delaware County George W. Hill prison in February has been ruled a homicide but, in a surprising twist, a homicide that apparently happened outside the prison’s walls.
“The homicide is a delayed homicide from complications from a previous gunshot,” county spokeswoman Adrienne Marofsky said.
“The County isn’t releasing any additional information,” Marofsky said in response to a bevy of follow-up questions, such as asking for the prisoner’s name, when he was admitted to the prison, as well as all of the information related to the incident in which the inmate was first shot.
The inmate died Sunday, Feb. 12.
“A 25-year-old African-American male was found to be unresponsive in his cell,” Warden Laura Williams said at a meeting of the jail oversight board on Feb. 14.
“He was found by an officer who was working the unit. He [the guard] had been completing his tours as indicated by policy. The officer had been familiar with the individual and noticed that they were in a state of distress, or an atypical behavioral state of how they typically are, and immediately called a medical emergency within the facility,” Williams told the board.
The county also did not respond to questions about what kind of medical care the inmate was receiving, and if he had been making any medical complaints close to the time of his death.
The homicide marks the fourth death since the county took over day-to-day management of the facility in April, after almost three decades of being privately managed — a shift that local media called a “new era” for the “beleaguered” facility.
In April, a prison inmate killed his cellmate by strangulation.
In June, two inmates died by suicide just days apart — the first time the facility witnessed two suicides in the same year since 2015. The county has not released any information on those two deaths. Broad + Liberty has a Right to Know request pending with the jail oversight board in an attempt to uncover more details.
Although not a homicide, the prison also dealt with a January stabbing in which the wounded inmate had to be taken to the hospital.
In another incident in February, the county acknowledged the prison accidentally released the wrong inmate.
Democrats on the county council campaigned on a platform that included deprivatizing the combination jail/prison, along with pledges of increased transparency. While certain transparency elements have been implemented, such as making board oversight meetings available on Youtube, the county has also backtracked in some areas.
For example, the prison is no longer disclosing its monthly staffing rates, whereas that statistic was routinely disclosed under private management.
The county also recently denied the release of the final report by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections from the scheduled inspection of the prison last fall, designed to make sure the facility is meeting minimum requirements of state law. Broad + Liberty has appealed that Right to Know denial to the Pennsylvania Office of Open records.
The prison has also been dealing with increasing costs.
At the February meeting of the jail oversight board, the board approved $3.19 million in increased spending to modify the prison’s contract with Wellpath, which provides health services.
In 2019, the prison budget was just over $48 million. By the end of 2022 — a year that included nine months of government management — the prison budget climbed to $55.7 million.
Despite the missteps and setbacks, prison officials and especially County Council Member Kevin Madden have pointed to reduced rates of incarceration as one of the defining achievements since the government took back management control almost one year ago.