MEDIA — Delaware County Council is unanimous in wanting the GEO Group Inc. to leave the county prison premises.
"I want to make it abundantly clear," county Councilman Kevin Madden, who is also chairman of the county's Jail Oversight Board, said, "the urgency and the importance for us to deprivatize the prison has not diminished. We stand absolutely behind the idea that the profiteering on the incarceration of individuals is not something that should be happening in Delaware County and the ignominy of being the only privately run for-profit prison in the state of Pennsylvania needs to end."
The prison is owned by Delaware County but operated by GEO Group Inc. In December 2018, the former prison board signed a five-year, $259 million contract with the private firm to continue services at the facility. That contract includes a 180-day termination clause to conclude services with the county.
"The first step is really to make sure that we understand the implications of transitioning and that we have thought through all the steps necessary to safely transition to a publicly run model," Madden said, adding more information regarding a move to deprivatizing the 1,883-inmate facility will be unveiled in the next few weeks. "We need to make sure that we have a thoughtful plan for the transition."
"During the time of the transition, that doesn't take us off the hook from overseeing GEO and that doesn't mean we can't reform the way in which the prison is run," he said.
His colleagues on county council were in agreement.
County Council Chairman Brian Zidek said, "Private prisons have no place in Delaware County."
"This is one of my highest priorities as it is, I think, for all five of us," Councilwoman Elaine Paul Schaefer said. "We are going to proceed as quickly as we can to make this happen. It's going to take time, though. As someone said, we can't snap our fingers and make it happen."
Councilwoman Christine Reuther said the county is in the midst of filling many positions and the need for a new human resources administrator is clear.
"One of the things that's going to have to happen to deprivatize the prison is to be able to move all of those employees back to the county payroll," she said, adding that she supports the idea of returning the prison to county operations.
She asked those in favor of that to keep coming and voicing their support to keep the issue in the forefront so the public continues to hears the stories of what occurs there.
Council Vice Chairman Monica Taylor asked for the public's patience.
"They are going to be making changes in holding GEO's feet to the fire," she said, "and making sure that we do our due diligence to figure out what is the best way and what is the real timeline for bringing it back under county control."
Referencing the Christmas tragedies of one suicide and five overdoses that ended with a death, a woman who said she does prison ministry at the correctional facility said, "People are dying in that prison. It's not just an issue of deprivatizing the prison, there's lives at stake right now."