Standing Room Only at County Commissioners’ Meeting as County Residents “Say No to GEO”
Lancaster, PA — A County Commissioners’ Meeting on June 12 in Warwick Township had standing room only, with over 100 County residents showing up to urge the Commissioners to reopen the RFP process for re-entry services.
“I’m Bridget Fisher of Ephrata, I’m inmate 12-2229,” an emotional Bridgit Fisher opened her statements to the County Commissioners, one of many returning citizens who attended the meeting to urge the Commissioners to reopen the RFP process.
Photo: Robin Eichenlaub
“In one email, Commissioner Parsons, you said that you have great confidence in your professional staff and their recommendations. But that’s five people. Look at this community of hundreds,” she said, drawing applause from the crowd.
Attendees held signs that said “Say No to GEO,” the for-profit prison company that is currently the only bidder for re-entry services in Lancaster County.
On June 3, faith leaders, former inmates, and other community members gathered at Tellus360 to lay out their concerns over the County’s secretive RFP process for re-entry services: a process that resulted in an RFP that seemed tailored to GEO Groups model.
At the Commissioners’ Meeting, John Singer of Manheim Township raised the issue of accountability and transparency throughout the RFP process.
“With the first RFP put out, the non-profits in this community had the ability to make proposals...The second RFP was so stringent that the perception is it was written specifically for GEO and eliminated the non-profits that have been providing services in Lancaster County for many years with good results.”
During the meeting, Randolph Hernandez of Lancaster City introduced Resolution 38, opposing contracting with for-profit prison companies and adapted from two separate resolutions passed by Lancaster and Tucson City Councils. Residents shared 380 paper and online petition signatures in support of the proposal with the Commissioners.
“Our children are not line items. They are our hopes for a better future,” said Hernandez, a York County police officer living in Lancaster City.
Beth Reeves of Lancaster Township said that Lancaster County had been a model of success for citizen re-entry before the RFP process was proposed. “We had something that was really working,” she told the Commissioners, “I would beg you to reopen the process and start again, because we’re making a mistake.”
Danny Rivera, a returning citizen, addresses the Commissioners. Photo: Michael Hodgson
The County Commissioners stopped short of making any commitments to address the concerns of the community. While all of the Commissioners said that they did not intend to privatize the prison, none of them agreed to sign the Resolution proposed at the meeting.
Commissioner Lehmen spoke generally in support of criminal justice reform, but did not address the crowds specific concerns. He spoke against making the RFP process more transparent, citing concerns that naming the County workers that drafted and rejected the initial RFP would open them up to political scrutiny.
Commissioner Stuckey defended the RFP process, and blamed the Lancaster County RMO for not applying to the second RFP. Many speakers raised concerns throughout the meeting that the non-profits were precluded by the language of the second RFP and effectively written out of the proposal.
Commissioner Parsons acknowledged that the community perception is that local non-profits were precluded by the second RFP but did not offer his opinion on the matter. He refused to commit to supporting Resolution 38, stating that his public comments about his intentions should be enough for concerned community members.
The next Commissioners' Meeting is June 19. Residents plan to continue their efforts to prevent GEO Group from taking over re-entry services in Lancaster.
The June 12 Commissioners’ Meeting was covered by FOX43.
Photo: Michael Hodgson