Pennsylvania GEO-Run Jail Boss Resigns After Media Reveals Complaints of Racism, Abuse at Private Prison
by David M. Reutter
The superintendent of Pennsylvania’s George W. Hill Correctional Facility, which is run by GEO Group, resigned in November after a media investigation uncovered a buried whistleblower complaint alleging racist and abusive behavior.
John A. Reilly, Jr., was recruited in 2001 as deputy superintendent George W. Hill. “When I came here, it was made clear to me that you’ve got to get up to speed to replace George, if something happens,” Reilly said of Hill, who had health problems. Hill retired in 2008, and Reilly replaced him.
“By then, the jail had attracted notoriety after a series of grim developments, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this year. “Twelve inmates died at the facility between 2002 and 2008, and lawsuits filed by their families against the prison company resulted in more than half a million dollars in wrongful-death settlements. Two years ago, GEO paid a $7 million settlement to the family of Janene Wallace, a mentally ill 35-year-old woman who had been incarcerated on a probation violation, and then hanged herself after 52 days in solitary confinement.”
One might wonder why an assistant prosecutor like Reilly would be tapped to run a private jail. Critics say it was because Reilly was part of the Republican Party that dominated politics in Delaware County. When Democrats in November 2019 took control of the county council and district attorney’s office for the first time in 150 years, Reilly probably began to ponder his future.
That same month, an investigative report published by The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Caucus detailed allegations of “racist and abusive behavior” by Reilly. That report was based on a 2014 whistleblower complaint sent by Warden Cameron Lindsey to the Attorney General’s Office and Delaware County officials. It accused Reilly of calling black guards “by the N-word in front of senior staffers, referring to Latino workers as ‘tacos,’ and once saying he hoped a pregnant female employee would have a child with birth defects.”
Delaware County officials paid an outside lawyer $20,000 to conduct an investigation but he did not produce a written report. In a closed-door session – during which the County Council prohibited the taking of notes — the lawyer gave an oral report to Council members. Reilly said he was suspended for 30 days for overseeing an “unprofessional environment” where employees used “salty language.” He denied using the alleged language or being involved, claiming the allegations were the result of the “personal agenda of the complainants.”
Report of the previously hidden whistleblower complaint investigation and Reilly’s oversight of bank accounts with over $750,000 that county officials say they had no knowledge of, were the catalyst for change. As PLN has reported, the new County Council decided to abolish the Board of Prison Inspectors and replace it with a five-member Jail Oversight Board, which will have three members of the public holding seats.
Reilly resigned effective November 27, 2019. He said he did not want “to be a distraction from [county officials’] work or the important work to be started by the county Jail Oversight Board.” That work will likely focus on whether the jail, which has a history of deaths and detainee abuse, remains under the operation of the GEO Group.
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