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Hostilities Deepen Between Warden and Staff at Delaware County Prison

(This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.)

Hostilities between the rank-and-file correctional officers and the warden of Delaware County’s prison have become so tense that dozens of officers refused to attend a planned recognition and awards ceremony as well as an appreciation barbecue as a part of National Correctional Officer Week, according to two sources with intimate knowledge of the prison’s day-to-day workings.

Those two sources also described several disciplinary events in recent months that the rank-and-file officers have perceived as being unfair to the point of being retaliatory.

All these events taken together have led to a kind of “Cold War” in which cooperation, open communication, and trust between management and staff is almost nonexistent and morale continues to plummet.

The two sources who form the basis for this article are known to Broad + Liberty, but are not named in order to allow them to speak freely without concerns of career retaliation.

The county sent out a glowing press release on Friday publicizing its celebration of National Correctional Officer Week on the grounds of the George W. Hill Correctional Facility (GWHCF).

But the two sources say it was far from a happy experience. Both sources said the decision for correctional officers not to go was not organized by any single person, but more of a grassroots affair in which individuals were deciding on their own not to attend. Once a few officers realized others were not going to attend, the idea spread quickly.

One source estimated that if there were 150 correctional officers at work that day, 140 refused to attend. It should be emphasized that those figures are only estimations, and can’t be corroborated.

Warden Laura Williams was installed by the county in her role on Jan. 31, 2022, just weeks before the county was set to finalize the management takeover of the prison which had been privately run for almost three decades.

Prior to working at the GWHCF, Williams worked at the Allegheny County Prison, one of the most troubled and controversial prisons in the commonwealth.

In June of 2023, Williams’ former colleague from Allegheny, Adam Smith, also joined the GWHCF team as chief deputy warden.

Discipline problems

The sources also described a recent incident in which a captain was put on leave while under investigation for workplace harassment, was allowed back to work a short number of days later, but then had to be quickly removed from the prison a second time when the complainant brought the matter to the attention of top county officials.

Broad + Liberty has changed the names of the persons involved because the complaining party has not made the allegations public. This outlet also does not have contact information for the accused in order to reach out for that person’s side of the story.

The sources described an incident in which a Haitian immigrant, Sgt. Bernard, was in a shift command office when a Captain Hackett came in. Bernard alleges Hackett harassed him by ordering him to make coffee, stole a pen out of his shirt pocket, and then shoved him, asking, “What are you going to do about it, pussy?”

Sources say the entire matter was caught on tape.

Bernard reported the incident, and Hackett was placed on leave for an investigation. Sources say just a handful of days later, Hackett was allowed back to work — an unusually short time for an investigation to be fully run.

Infuriated, Bernard wrote to county officials in Media.

Sources say once county officials heard from Bernard, they immediately overruled the decision for him to return, and he was immediately placed on administrative leave — for a second time. The net effect was that someone at the top of county government — a member or members of the county council, or the county’s executive director — had to effectively overrule Warden Williams in placing Hackett back on leave.

Confounding the issue is the sources say others have been fired from the prison for far less serious incidents. Both sources say they’ve seen other incidents — including one in which an employee was fired — in which other employees were disciplined much more harshly than Hackett, yet had appeared to do far less. The sources say discipline in the prison has begun to feel capricious and political.

Current conditions

Both sources say there were more than 30 instances of inmate-on-inmate violence in April, an incredibly high number. Statistics from 2018 and 2019 show that the prison reported no instances of inmate-on-inmate assault in either of those years. In 2022, the county reported 79 total instances of inmate-on-inmate assault.

Issues of contraband persist. The same sources said there were about two dozen narcotics and narcotics paraphernalia seizures in the facility in April.

An inspection report from the state department of corrections in December noted that investigators walked through two hazy cell pods while “[observing] the significant odor of contraband smoke.”

“The smoke had an odor similar to burned elicit [sic] substances,” the report also noted.

Meanwhile, the county has stopped responding to basic requests for information.

When Broad + Liberty asked the county to confirm the cause of death for an inmate who died in January, the county’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Marofsky, directed us to the medical examiner’s office for the person’s autopsy — a document that costs $500.

Broad + Liberty also asked for the name and cause of death for an inmate who died in March, 2023. Marofsky directed us to the county’s Right to Know page — in essence, telling us to file an open records request, a process that could take more than a month or longer to obtain meaningful information.

This reporter also asked for an interview with Warden Williams or County Councilor and Jail Oversight Board Chairman Kevin Madden at any point in June. That request was denied.

The county has managed to significantly increase the number of inmates who are successfully completing their GED while in prison. But recidivism — the county’s number one reason for retaking full management control — has essentially remained unchanged at about 60 percent two years into the county’s control.

The county did not respond to a request for comment to any of the issues presented above.

County issues

The persistent turmoil at the prison continues at a time when the county is facing new challenges and scandals.

Just last week, the county fired its emergency services director, Timothy Boyce, amid allegations of workplace misconduct.

Meanwhile, the county has been laying the groundwork for a large tax increase amid its spending on the prison, the new health department, and other projects. As Broad + Liberty previously reported, Councilwoman Christine Reuther said in a meeting that the county was facing a “sizable” tax increase.

Weeks after that report, the Delaware County Daily Times reported that a future tax increase could be in the double digits.

Editor’s note: Broad + Liberty is in the process of purchasing four autopsies from the Delaware County medical examiner as part of our continued reporting on the GWHCF. This will cost $2,000 in total. If you believe this journalism is valuable and would like to help defray those costs, please donate here.

Delco GOP Candidates Call Out Dem Leadership Over Issues at Prison

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.”

Beth Stefanide Miscichowski

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.

Jeff Jones, a candidate for Delaware County Council.

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.

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