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The Lackawanna County Seven: And Then There Were Five

by Mumia Abu-Jamal

Few cases are as difficult to prosecute as those involving cops, sheriffs and prison guards. This is largely due to the popular perception that they’re the good guys protecting society from the bad guys ... or in this case, bad girls.

The Lackawanna County Seven – seven guards at the Lackawanna County Prison in northeastern Pennsylvania – were charged with sexually assaulting female prisoners. [See: PLN, Dec. 2018, p.26; July 2018, p.34].

The fact that the victims were incarcerated was not lost on either judges or juries. When the case first broke in mid-2018, it was a regional sensation extensively covered by the news media, coming, as it did, amid the #MeToo movement. But that was then. 

Shortly after the case was reported in local newspapers, all felony charges against one of the accused guards, Paul J. Voglino, were dismissed at a preliminary hearing, leaving a single misdemeanor charge.

Then former Lackawanna guard George McHale went to trial in early February 2019, and an unidentified female prisoner took the stand for an hour to present testimony against him. Two days later the jury acquitted McHale on all charges, which included three counts of involuntary deviant sexual intercourse. 

On February 21, 2019, ex-guard Jeffery Staff, 43, took a plea of nolo contendere to a misdemeanor charge of official oppression, which allowed him to claim his innocence though he admitted he had “contact” with a female prisoner. He received nine months of probation. 

The other cases remain pending, but they seem to be veering in a direction that suggests neither judges nor juries place much stock in the testimony of the women who say they were sexually abused by guards at the Lackawanna County Prison. 

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Sources: The Times-Tribune, WNEP

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