Five female inmates at Delaware County’s George W. Hill Correctional Facility spent Christmas night in hospitals after overdosing on heroin, authorities said Thursday.
The overdoses were reported about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday night, after guards found the inmates collapsed and unresponsive in their cells, according to a source at the jail who spoke on condition of anonymity. The source described the scene as a “disaster,” with medical personnel and corrections officers scrambling to revive the women.
Naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioids, was administered to all five inmates, four of whom “became responsive immediately,” according to a spokesperson for the GEO Group, the for-profit prison conglomerate that runs the county-owned jail in Thornton. The unit in which the women were housed was placed on lockdown and searched, the GEO spokesperson said.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the heroin was brought into the prison, but GEO staff suspect that a visitor sneaked it in during holiday visitation hours, the spokesperson said.
“More than half of the individuals ordered to G.W. Hill Correctional facility come to the facility with a substance abuse addiction. We provide rigorous treatment programs and education to help individuals overcome their addictions,” the company said in a statement.
“More importantly, we have policies and procedures in place to ensure we keep all inmates and staff safe and secure. Not only is it completely unlawful to illegally smuggle narcotics into the facility but people who pursue these unlawful actions only hurt their friends and family members who are trying to fight addiction.”
Robert DiOrio, the solicitor for the county’s newly formed Jail Oversight Board, confirmed that five inmates overdosed at the facility. He declined to comment further, citing active investigations by both GEO staff and the District Attorney’s Office.
Three of the women were taken to Riddle Hospital in Media and two were taken to Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland, the source at the jail said. Two were discharged early Thursday and two were reported in stable condition. One of the women at Riddle remained in critical condition after suffering cardiac arrest as medics tried to revive her, sources said. No names were released.
The George W. Hill facility, the only privately operated county jail in Pennsylvania, has recently faced increased scrutiny. Its longtime warden, John Reilly Jr., retired in November after an investigation by The Inquirer and the Caucus uncovered previously undisclosed allegations of racist and abusive behavior.
Reilly’s departure coincided with an overhaul of the county entity that oversees how the jail is run.
Previously, the five-member, politically appointed Board of Prison Inspectors made financial and administrative decisions, including the December 2018 renewal of the county’s $259 million contract with the GEO Group.
In October, the Delaware County Council voted to remake the board amid pressure from activists with the grassroots Delaware County Coalition for Prison Reform — including District Attorney-elect Jack Stollsteimer, one of the coalition’s founding members.
The new Jail Oversight Board includes the county controller, the sheriff, two judges, and three members of the public. It held its first meeting last month, during which it appointed Donna Mellon as interim superintendent after Reilly’s departure.
But the issues with George W. Hill predated Reilly’s retirement. Over the last two decades, the almost 1,900-bed jail had numerous inmate suicides, many resulting in sizable payouts through lawsuits.
Most recently, the family of Janene Wallace won $7 million in 2017. Wallace, a mentally ill 35-year-old woman who had been incarcerated on a probation violation, hanged herself after 52 days in solitary confinement.