On Wednesday night, about thirty people gathered at Trinity Church for “Deprivatizing Delco’s Prison” presented by Kabeera Weissman and Gwen McCullough of the Delco Coalition for Prison Reform (Delco CPR). In addition to being an activist, McCullough is a former inmate at George W. Hill Correctional Facility, and she shared some of her own appalling experiences from when she was jailed.
Currently run by GEO Group, George Hill—right here in Delaware County—is the only private prison in Pennsylvania. We heard about the terrible conditions in the prison—the filth and crowding of intake, the difficulty getting important medication, the weekday-only visiting policy—and learned about the various incentives that help keep the prison beds full. GEO Group makes money on each prisoner, so recidivism helps their bottom line. More surprising, it turns out that Delaware County has to PAY GEO Group (our tax dollars!) for every day any bed is empty. So: no one has an incentive to see prisoners rehabilitated or housed in more humane facilities, as happens more often at the publicly run prison in Montgomery County. Because of the racial and economic disparities in policing, most of the prisoners at George Hill are poor and black. Because of the unjust cash bail system, a huge percentage of them have not been convincted of any crime.
At the end of the evening, we wrote postcards to members of Delaware County Council, who oversee the prison. You can write your own postcard right now! Or you can email your representatives, and tell them you want to see the prison brought under public management. Here’s a sample text:
“I urge you to return George W. Hill Correctional Facility to public management and public oversight. Please terminate the contract with GEO Group and do not authorize a new contract with another private management company. Instead, I ask that you create a transition plan for transparent public management. Private prisons are known to provide inhumane treatment and increase recidivism, and are not incentivized to rehabilitate prisoners. Profiting from incarceration is immoral and I do not want my taxpayer dollars to fund such profits.”
You can send your postcard to (names, phone numbers, and emails below):
201 West Front Street, Media, PA 19063
County Council Member
John P. McBlain, Chairman
Colleen P. Morrone, Vice Chairman
Kevin M. Madden
Brian P. Zidek
Here are some more things we learned last week at the fascinating and moving presentation by Delco Coalition for Prison Reform:
* 27% of prison population behind bars due only to inability to post bail.
* The public has no access to the prison’s operating budget, and no evidence that money is saved by using a private prison company over public management, as some County Council members contend.
* All prison board meetings are held at the prison, and attendees’ cell phones are taken at the door.
* While prison board meetings are now listed on a public website the meetings are not videotaped as County Council meetings are.
* Delco CPR activist Gwen McCullough initiated a successful “books & bras” drive for people held at George Hill. Her next initiative focuses on “writing behind bars” and will involve donations of wire-free notebooks (such as legal pads and composition notebooks), greeting and birthday cards, stamps, and special safety pens that are permitted in prison
* County Council has no plans to hold a public hearing on the issue of deprivatizing Delco’s prison. DelcoCPR will therefore hold its own public hearing on the question. September 30, 2-4 pm, location TBD. All welcome!