Released: September 28, 2021
After months of detailed study, outside expert review and public input, the Delaware County Jail Oversight Board (JOB) voted to recommend to the Delaware County Council ending the private management of the County’s GW Hill Correctional Facility at its September 28 meeting in a 6 to 2 vote.
Following this vote, GEO Group (GEO), the current operator of the jail, will be given the required 180-day notice the County is ending its contract. In reaching this determination, the County hired the nationally recognized CGL Companies to conduct a thorough analysis of the budgetary impact as well as the necessary elements to a transition plan to ensure the public’s safety, improve detainee outcomes and protect taxpayer resources. CGL estimated that the County could save as much as $5.5 million per year by ending private, for-profit management of the jail and resuming direct County management of the facility.
“This decision is not one that we have taken lightly or without a great deal of thought and analysis,” said Delaware County Councilman Kevin Madden, who serves as Chairman of the Jail Oversight Board and led the review process. “The process to take direct management of a jail of this size is no small task. But with a recidivism rate of more than 60 percent in recent years and higher costs per inmate than our neighboring counties are paying for their jails, it is clear what is happening now isn't working for detainees or the taxpayers of Delaware County and change is needed.”
Madden noted that those incarcerated at the County’s prison are either sentenced to serve two years or less for relatively minor crimes and will quickly return to our community or are held pre-trial and often released within weeks. The County therefore has an interest in helping them use their incarceration to re-set their lives and emerge with the tools they need to become productive, law-abiding neighbors. And while reducing costs is not the primary goal of resuming county control of the jail – improving outcomes for detainees when they are released and reducing recidivism is – the analysis conducted by CGL found it would be possible to both invest in better outcomes for current detainees, including drug and mental health treatment and life skill training, and reduce overall costs by, in part, removing the profit being paid to the private operator, GEO, as well as the profit motive itself.
As part of its resumption of operations, the County will integrate the prison with its other justice agencies so that investments can be made across agencies in technology, staff, treatment, mental health, and re-entry programs, rather than paying for corporate profits.
As part of the analysis and review process, CGL and the Jail Oversight Board found that despite paying higher overall costs than its neighboring counties, the County jail is currently experiencing significant operational difficulties, including extended lockdowns and incidents of violence. The jail under GEO’s management is confronting major staffing shortages, with current staffing levels less than 80% of contract requirements. Part of the transition plan to county control includes paying jail workers more and ensuring a better working environment in order to attract additional staff and lessen costly employee turnover.
“The decline in GEO’s financial position over the last few years underscores why there should not be private, for-profit management of the GW Hill Correctional Facility,” stated County Councilman Madden. “Delaware County taxpayers deserve and should expect that their funds are being used to invest in the future of our detainees, not prop up a sagging profit margin. Resumption of County control will refocus our efforts on our community’s needs, not the interests of the for-profit jail operator.”
The termination of the agreement with the GEO Group is dependent upon Council action, which is tentatively scheduled for the October 6th County Council meeting. Should the County Council vote to terminate the agreement, GCL and Alta Management, which has served as the Owner’s Representative during this process, will assist the County and GW Hill leadership as they transition management of the Facility back to the County. They will identify and develop management systems, capital improvements, transportation, personnel, re-entry, medical services, certification, and financial controls. If approved by Council, the jail will return to full County control by the spring of 2022.