York County Prison has serious problems


At the risk of sounding like a broken record, York County Prison has a serious problem.

Correction: Many problems.

We've reported quite vigorously on the prison's repeated run-ins with a certain training contractor whose staff allegedly paraded inmates naked through the facility ... and was subsequently given a new contract by the county commissioners.

Likewise, we've reported on the battery of lawsuits that have dogged PrimeCare, the prison's health care provider and, most recently, a spat over phone service in which county officials are accused of putting their fingers on the scale for one provider over another.

More:Inmates allege York County Prison violating civil liberties amid COVID-19 lockdown

More:COVID cases are dropping at York County Prison — but are they really?

More:Prison board approves month-to-month extension of PrimeCare medical contract

York County Prison in Springettsbury Township Monday, August, 24, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Throughout the COVID pandemic, the prison has also repeatedly seen outbreaks spread through the facility. Honestly, we can't ding them for that fact alone. The virus loves congregate facilities, as we've all learned.

But we are appalled by the county's negligent response to all these crises.

Last August, Warden Adam Ogle claimed the facility's decision not to require his staff to get vaccinated was based on a recommendation from PrimeCare — which PrimeCare flatly denied ever making.

Prisoners and their families are now raising concerns about a host of issues, from prison staff refusing to wear masks, to being denied access to their attorneys, to having court dates repeatedly delayed over COVID concerns.

Ogle, meanwhile, has steadfastly refused to reveal how many staff members are testing positive, citing security concerns — even as many other state and county correctional facilities across Pennsylvania do provide that information.

Inmates also pointed to a troubling shortage of testing at the prison.

For them, the lack of testing means that whole units are being locked down due to presumptive exposures. For us, it raises grave questions about how trustworthy the prison's own data is.

The number of COVID-positive inmates at York County Prison has steadily declined in the past couple weeks. But if the prison isn't actually testing inmates, what we could really be witnessing is the juking of stats.

County officials, starting at the prison and going straight up the chain of command to President Commissioner Julie Wheeler, have gone silent.

They simply haven't answered any of our questions.

And the county's written response to allegations of civil liberties violations and lax COVID protocols didn't address the underlying issues.

At all.

Instead of mounting a defense of their actions (or actually working to fix the problems), they criticized the inmates themselves for not following the county's complaint process.

"The prison handbook outlines a process by which inmates can raise concerns with the administration and we encourage inmates and their families to read and use it," the written statement reads.

With one failure compounding another, York County has proven itself incapable of running a prison — let alone to hold itself to any kind of standard.

It's time for the state Department of Corrections, which is tasked with inspecting county prisons at least once every two years, to — at a minimum — investigate what's going on here.

Next at bat? The auditor general. The attorney general. The U.S. Department of Justice.

All hands on deck.