HARRISBURG, Pa. — In response to years of allegations of misconduct at Dauphin County Prison, officials on Wednesday announced new reforms intended to usher in a “new era” of transparency and accountability.
Two new positions were created: a more expansively defined Director of Criminal Justice and an Internal Affairs Investigator.
Former Lancaster City Bureau of Police Chief John Bey was named Director of Criminal Justice. He is tasked with increasing staff efficiency and benefitting incarcerated individuals throughout their contact with the criminal justice system.
The role meant to have broader duties than the previous Director of Corrections position, which was held by Brian Clark. Clark parted ways with the county in September 2021, roughly a year after he was investigated for allegations of inappropriate conduct.
Officials said the more expansive role is necessary to meet the prison’s goals to reduce recidivism, foster diversity and equity, and build relationships with the community. They admitted the criminal justice system had failed to reach those goals in many cases.
“We’re done figuring out a way to play the blame game. We need help. And we need partners,” said Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick, III.
Bey said he expects to release a report on metrics at the jail, like incidents of use of force and number of inmates hospitalized.
Prison reform advocates want to see those metrics improve. According to the Pennsylvania Prison Society, 17 people have died in the jail since 2019, including four people by suicide. The last death was of 63-year-old Richard Carter on Christmas Eve. Officials said Carter had a preexisting medical condition that required medication.
“They’ve got a lot of challenges out there. We just got contacted in the last few days about the food service again. We hear frequently about the medical care there. We’re concerned that’ there’s too many people locked up in that small prison,” said John Hargreaves, volunteer director with the Pennsylvania Prison Society.
Hargreaves said the food was of poor enough quality that a large group of inmates recently threatened to send their food back to the kitchen.
Another new hire, Kevin Myers, comes from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). He will oversee accountability for any misconduct by corrections officers. That could lead to firings, even amid a historic staffing shortage of corrections officers.
“Do we want bad people working in the prison? I mean, if you’re going to have that, I would rather have nobody working,” Myers said.
Officials acknowledged they faced an uphill battle to change the reputation and culture of the jail, but said they were cautiously optimistic that with time, it can be done.