Phoenix Report Delayed Until March

The results of a study comparing publicly vs. privately run correctional facilities has now been delayed until March, as reported by attorney Ronald G. Henry at the Prison Board meeting on November 14th. The unelected Delaware County Board of Prison Inspectors commissioned the report in May from Phoenix Management at a cost of $100,000 to the county. There was hope that the report would provide guidance as the Prison Board considers whether to renew the current contract with GEO Group to manage George W. Hill Correctional Facility, whether to give the contract to another company being considered through an RFP process, or return the facility to public management.

As reporter Kathleen Carey explains in the Delco Times, Phoenix Management has had difficulty acquiring information relevant to the study. Some counties have refused to participate, while others have been less than forthcoming.

Even without the report, the RFP process will continue since the current contract with GEO Group expires on December 31, 2018. The Prison Board had previously promised to host a public forum with County Council, but have now pushed back those plans until the report is released in 2019. County Councilman Kevin Madden expressed his disappointment with the delay:

"‘I'm extraordinarily displeased by what I've seen with how this whole thing is run,’ he said at Wednesday's County Council meeting regarding the prison. ‘We've asked for a public hearing. It's mid-November. No public hearing is on the calendar as far as I know. I'm really left with just a very, very bad taste in my mouth about how this whole thing has been run.’”

A public hearing where the Prison Board, County Council, and members of the public can discuss the report should be “critical to the decision-making process” according to DelcoCPR. As reported by the Delco Times:

"‘If the Phoenix report will not be ready until March, we call for a short-term contract, limited to six months or one year, at most,’ (DelcoCPR) contended.

In addition, (DelcoCPR) said the prison board has the evaluation wrong.

‘Delco CPR believes the prison board is asking the wrong questions with the Phoenix report. Instead of merely looking at economic costs of running the facility, they should also be looking at human costs and long-term effects of recidivism for individuals and communities. Cost isn't everything and cheaper does not always mean better.

‘Research has shown that private prisons often cut corners on areas like staffing and medical treatment. Without comparing actual programmatic offerings, recidivism rates, staffing practices and more, it is very difficult to know what we are getting for a specific amount of money.’

Delco CPR officials said GEO can reduce the costs for the county with wrongful death lawsuit costs because they can spread the cost of insurance across multiple insurance providers.

‘However, wrongful death litigation happens in the context of mismanagement and abuse. We reject the notion that savings costs on lawsuits is the best way to serve the people of Delaware County, instead of providing more human treatment.’

(DelcoCPR) questioned employee oversight and the impact of low pay in light of a correctional officer being arrested last week for smuggling drugs into the prison. GEO officials said their internal team worked with investigators and that the officer was immediately suspended, pending termination proceedings.

‘We can't just look at the economic cost of a privately managed prison vs. a county-managed prison,’ Delco CPR said. ‘We need to look at the human costs as well and understand what we are paying for and if any corners are being cut in providing rehabilitation and services to the human beings in our care.’"