Delco Jail Oversight Board recommends deprivatization transition team

In this 2018 file photo, Kabeera Weissman, a co-founder of DelcoCPR, lays out the reasons the group and other residents want the privately managed George W. Hill Correctional Facility in the the public's control. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

In this 2018 file photo, Kabeera Weissman, a co-founder of DelcoCPR, lays out the reasons the group and other residents want the privately managed George W. Hill Correctional Facility in the the public's control. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

Delaware County’s Jail Oversight Board has recommended that the County Council award a contract to Florida-based facilities services company CGL Cos. to handle efforts to deprivatize the George W. Hill Correctional Facility. The council is expected to vote on the recommendation at its Dec. 16 meeting.

“They were selected through a competitive qualifications-based process,” county Executive Director Howard Lazarus told WHYY News. The board’s recommendation was unanimous.

The correctional facility — the only privately managed county prison  in Pennsylvania — is currently managed by the GEO Group, a for-profit company, through a $259 million contract signed in 2018. The prison has faced scrutiny and numerous allegations of misconduct in recent years for its treatment of incarcerated people and staff.

The recommendation of a transition team is the latest in several steps that the county has taken since the all-Democratic council took office.

If approved, CGL would likely start in January. According to the Jail Oversight Board, the company was chosen because of its experience handling a similar project at the Lawrenceville Correctional Center in Virginia and its numerous endorsements from previous partners.

“I’m glad we have a team that has experience navigating through [this] and comes with the high recommendations they’ve received from people that we trust,” County Councilman Kevin Madden, who chairs the Jail Oversight Board, said its meeting Tuesday.

CGL will be tasked with conducting a financial review of the transition, assisting with the creation of programs related to health, drug treatment and education, and providing post-transition support, according to Lazarus.

CGL’s $385,000 contract will be paid through the county’s general operating fund, Lazarus said. If it is approved by the council, the process would begin with a financial analysis of deprivatization that likely would be complete by the end of February.

“If Council decides to go forward, the contract with GEO provides for, once the county makes notification … a 180-day transition period,” Lazarus said.

Every team needs a quarterback

The Jail Oversight Board is also in the process of recommending that the council award a contract up to $25,000 to Alta Management, which Madden said would serve as a sort of quarterback.

“Alta Management will serve as the owner’s representative. Owner’s representative services are fairly common — particularly in the construction industry,” Lazarus said.

Initially, the board raised questions about an apparent lack of diversity among the CGL Cos. team, which provided additional data to demonstrate its diversity. Alta Management, on the other hand, is a “minority-owned business,” according to Lazarus.

“They’ll also provide oversight of the consultant to ensure contractual compliance and assist in the transition to ensure continuity and minimize disruption in prison operations,” Lazarus told board members during the meeting.

Update on coronavirus outbreak

The Jail Oversight Board also heard an update on the current coronavirus outbreak at the prison, which began with a positive test on Nov. 13.

“Since then, we’ve had 19 inmates test positive for the virus. Fourteen have recovered and have gone back to their cohorts, and five are in medical under quarantine, but all are asymptomatic,” said acting warden Donna Mellon said.

Since the beginning of March, 160 incarcerated people and 115 staff members have tested positive at the correctional facility, according to Mellon. Though there have been no deaths among the prison population, one officer and one county employee have died from the coronavirus.

“Since November 11, we had this most recent outbreak that has frankly reflected and mirrored the increased community spread,” Madden said.

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