Ms. Zoey Stafford and her fiancé Tyler
Ms. Zoey Stafford is a pleasant, articulate, busy young woman with an eight-year-old daughter. Ms. Stafford's fiancé, Tyler Palmer, is currently being housed at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility and has been there for the last 17 months. Tyler has been incarcerated at the G. W. Hill facility at least 5 times since 2003 or 2004, and has spent a total of about 4 years residing at the GEO Group managed facility.
Tyler has a long history of mental health issues and was previously diagnosed with bi-polar, schizophrenia, and anxiety and depression disorders. According to Zoey, her fiancé's current circumstances began when a hospital in Chester, PA cancelled Tyler's appointment creating a situation wherein he could not get his psychiatric medications renewed. He subsequently had a psychotic episode and was "302'd" for a period of seventy-two hours. Tyler was eventually released from the hospital at which time his County Probation was revoked by the Media, PA office. This was done ostensibly because his "302” process involved police contact, a technical violation of his Probation. Zoey explained that Tyler was on probation at this time for charges related to DUI and attempting to elude police.
Once incarcerated at the George W. Hill facility, Tyler was somehow declared "incompetent to stand trial" and consequently he has been languishing there since May 02, 2017. Part of the reason for Tyler's stasis appears to be his refusal to participate in any additional "competency-related" hearings as, according to Zoey, he is concerned that he will be declared "permanently incompetent" and placed in a State Hospital from which he will be unable to secure his release. According to Zoey, he has not had a trial, nor has he been convicted of anything other than his initial technical probation violation. The other issue that contributes to Tyler's difficulties is that the medical staff at George W. Hill keep stopping his required psychiatric medications. Although Ms. Stafford has several concerns about G. W. Hill, this is her primary complaint.
Previously, Zoey had visited Tyler up to 3 times per week, but due to recent visiting policy changes her visiting is now limited to once per week. When she sees Tyler, Ms. Stafford describes his condition and appearance as "stressed out and disheveled.” She also noted that "he has lost a lot of weight.” George W. Hill and its staff are not meeting even basic physical and psychological health care requirements for her troubled fiancé. When asked about her treatment as a visitor to the facility, she said, "The guards have attitudes and sometimes throw people out for asking questions.” Sometimes during her visits it has taken over an hour to have her fiancé sent down to the Visiting Room from the cell block.
Ms. Stafford told us Tyler lives on the General Population cell block, but on at least two occasions he has been sent to the Medical Department's Psychiatric unit. Zoey also indicated that Tyler has often been locked in his cell and not let out - this technique is apparently used as a behavior management tool. Most distressing to hear was that, despite her numerous attempts to contact medical and administrative staff at G. W. Hill, they frequently do not get back to her - "they do not answer their phones and they do not get back to me!" Ms. Stafford is a Muslim-American woman and she wears a traditional "hijab.” We asked her if she felt she was treated differently because of her faith or her appearance. Tellingly, she said, "Oh no! I'm not treated differently, they treat everyone horribly!"
From talking to Zoey it is apparent that her fiancé Tyler has a hard time at the privately-run County jail. She showed me numerous "grievance forms" that Tyler had filed with the facility's Administration in an attempt to address problems, and she confirmed that during his incarceration he has received several "disciplinary write-ups." According to Ms. Stafford, Tyler is the kind of person who wants to be treated with respect by the Staff and when that doesn't happen, he doesn't just let it pass. He stands up for his dignity. Tyler has told Zoey that he often "fears for his life" in the George W. Hill facility and the only violence he has encountered during his 5 stays there has been at the hands of guards. She offered the following 2 accounts as evidence:
Sometime in late 2015 or early 2016, Tyler was at his Block Counselor's office to sign some paperwork related to obtaining the services of a Public Defender for his case. A guard told him to return to his cell prior to him being able to complete his paperwork and he refused attempting to explain again why he was there. The guard told Tyler to return to his cell again, and again, Tyler refused. Subsequently, Tyler was placed in handcuffs with his hands behind his back and his arms were "jacked up so high" (a pain enhancement technique), that he had to stand on his tip-toes in an effort to get some relief. While he was being walked across the cell block in this condition, he kicked over a mop bucket in an expression of pain and frustration. This angered the guards who were escorting him to the "hole" (Restricted Housing Unit), and they threw him into a nearby room and began to alternately punch him in the face and pepper spray him. Every time he turned his head to avoid a blow to the face he was pepper sprayed, and every time he turned his head to avoid being pepper sprayed, he was punched in the face.
On another occasion in late March of 2018, Tyler requested to see his Block Counselor - his request was refused. During this encounter with the guards, he was ultimately pepper sprayed again and a mesh "spit bag" was placed over his head and face making it even more difficult for him to breathe. He had previously had run-ins with one of these guards. The end result of this interaction was that Tyler was thrown in the "hole" for a two-week period. He was only returned to the General Population cell block after Ms. Stafford eventually made contact with a high-ranking Security officer, who arranged for Tyler's release from the Restricted Housing Unit.
Ms. Stafford's last visit with Tyler was on October 01, 2018 and according to her, as of that date, Tyler had not taken any educational courses, participated in any therapeutic programs, or received any significant medical or psychiatric treatment. Zoey’s primary complaint is that the medical staff keep "starting and stopping my fiancé’s required psychiatric medications. They are not consistent with it.” This inconsistency in treatment may contribute to the disciplinary problems he has encountered at the facility. When asked about the worst part of this experience for her, she said, "Watching Tyler go through this and being helpless to assist him.” Ms. Stafford also commented that in the 14 or so year period that she and Tyler have had to interact with the George W. Hill Correctional Facility and its personnel, "Things are worse now than they ever were for inmates there.” She also feels that there are more incidents of violence against inmates perpetrated by staff members. Ms. Stafford's big takeaway is that she wants the George W. Hill facility and its staff members to treat inmates better - to treat them with respect, to provide improved staffing and training, and to give the inmate population better medical treatment.
Note: pseudonyms have been used to protect the privacy of the individuals who shared their story with us.