Two Delaware County Republican candidates held a press conference Thursday pointing out the problematic conditions at the George W. Will Correctional Facility and laying the blame at the feet of the county’s Democratic leadership.
Delaware County District Attorney candidate Beth Stefanide-Miscichowski and Jeff Jones, who is running for county council, said conditions at the facility are especially concerning given the recent escape by a convicted murderer at the Chester County Prison.
“It seems to be a recipe for disaster,” Stefanide-Miscichichowski said. “Are we going to wait until an inmate shimmies up a wall to see the train coming?
“In the 18 months since the Delaware County government took over managing the day-to-day operations (at the jail), there have been six inmate deaths, including three suicides, a prisoner murdered by his cellmate, and two other deaths categorized as ‘extraordinary occurrences,’” added Stefanide-Miscichowski. “The budget to operate the prison has increased more than 16 percent in 4 years, while the prison’s population has decreased by 28 percent, yet conditions are getting worse.”
Jones said, “The Delaware County Council has created a $65 million hole in the county budget that they have already admitted will require them to seek ‘new sources of revenue.’ In government speak, that means higher taxes—a 35 percent increase in county property taxes, to be exact.
“Since Delco Dems have assumed management, six inmates have died, representing a ten-fold increase in deaths under GEO (the private company that used to run the prison). As the number of inmates has decreased, the cost of running the prison has increased by $10 million. Worse care and less safety for more money,” Jones said.
Stefanide-Miscichowski noted that in December 2022, Albert Johnson, a 12-year correctional officer at the prison, appeared before the Delaware County Council to share his grave concerns about conditions. As reported by the Delaware County Daily Times, Johnson spoke about how correctional officers feared for their safety, that there were cells that did not lock, stabbings of inmates at the prison, and how officers had feces and urine thrown on them daily. Not surprisingly, he added, morale among officers was at an all-time low.
Stefanide-Miscichowski also called for an independent, outside investigation by Pennsylvania’s attorney general into the death of inmate Mustaffa Jackson in February 2023.
Jackson died of urosepsis, a urinary tract infection that spread into his kidney. That condition is usually treatable with antibiotics, she said.
According to Broad + Liberty, Jackson, a paraplegic, was found unconscious and face-down in his cell surrounded by used and unused catheters. Efforts to resuscitate him did not occur until five minutes after he was found unresponsive.
“County government took over the prison operations under the guise of improving the quality of conditions, but they have only gotten worse,” said Stefanide-Miscichowski. “When the county houses individuals at the facility, there is a responsibility that the county accepts in providing medical care and ensuring inmate safety. Jackson’s death, based on feedback from medical experts, appears to have been entirely avoidable.”
Jones said Jackson’s death “represents utter callousness and disregard for consequences as the Delco Dems quest to implement their ideologically driven policies has wrought.”
“Mustafa, a disabled man unable to care for himself, was left alone, face down, wearing an adult diaper, surrounded by catheters, left to die an agonizing death,” said Jones. “The Delco Dems told us they would bring dignity and a new level of professionalism to our county prison. Dying alone of a preventable disease isn’t dignity. It’s depravity.”
Stefanide-Miscichowski is also concerned about taxpayers footing the bill for lawsuits brought by prisoners. She noted the warden the county hired, Laura Williams, was sued by an inmate when she worked at the Allegheny County jail “in a case disturbingly similar to the lack of health care attention received by Mustaffa Jackson.”
When GEO Group privately operated the facility, the company assumed liability, she said.
In a written statement, a county spokeswoman noted Stefanide-Mischichowski and Jones were running for office, and their press conference was political. In the statement, she said GEO paid correctional officers $15 an hour, while they are now paid $24 an hour, with sergeants and lieutenants paid more.
“The warden is committed to improving staff morale,” she said. She disputed that the inmate population dropped, saying it was “largely stagnant” in the 18 months since the county took over.
In 2021, she said six people died at the prison of natural causes. In 2022, five people died. There was one natural death and one suicide before the transition and one homicide and two suicides following it, she said.
In 2023, so far, three people have died. One (Jackson) was a “delayed homicide,” meaning he died from complications of a gunshot wound from a shooting before he was incarcerated. And one suicide and one accidental, she said.