One iris scanner, please

George W. Hill DD

A lot has been written this summer about the George W. Hill Correctional Facility. Inmates at Delaware County’s prison – some awaiting trial, others serving sentences – keep walking out when they’re not supposed to. That includes one murder suspect.

They’re not breaking out. Employees at the for-profit prison are just opening the door for them by mistake. Six times in recent months. Either because someone misread an inmate’s paperwork or didn’t have it in their possession, and didn’t double-check to make sure that the inmate was cleared for release.

County Council Chairman Jack Whelan and District Attorney G. Michael Green are not happy, and State Rep. Stephen Barrar wants new laws.

The Inky reports today that Lancaster County Prison uses an iris scanner that costs $20,000 a year to identify inmates and ensure that nobody leaves by mistake. Seems like a reasonable price to me if it solves the problem in Delco. But I’m not Community Education Centers, the New Jersey firm that Delaware County pays to run its prison, the only privately operated county prison in Pennsylvania.

CEC doesn’t do it out of the kindness of their hearts. They’re here to make money. Opponents of prison privatization say the profit incentive means cutting corners, which could include hiring guards and other employees that will work for less money, which could lead to mistakes such as, say, accidental inmate releases. Over the years, several of the prison's (now former) corrections officers have turned into criminals themselves. Privatization proponents say profit-driven companies find new efficiencies, which significantly reduces the burden on taxpayers.

This debate has been going on for 15 years in Delaware County and it’s not going to be resolved anytime soon. But something is obviously out of whack at the prison. The problem needs to be fixed now, before an innocent person is hurt or killed by a desperate inmate on the lam.