In Delco, how many prisoners have walked free?

On the lam: Ateia Polk (left) and David Wilson.
On the lam: Ateia Polk (left) and David Wilson.
Posted: September 03, 2010

Another mistaken release at the Delaware County prison this week has left officials frustrated, wondering how many more prisoners have walked free this year, and recognizing there are system-wide problems with the paperwork for inmate releases.

The Delaware County Council chairman, John J. Whelan said he will start looking into "breaching" the county's contract with the company that runs the facility unless the situation is quickly corrected.

Whelan admitted Friday that he does not know exactly how many inmates have been mistakenly let go this year. "I would hope it is not a large number," he said.

There have been at least five since May.

The District Attorney's office announced Friday that its investigation had found "systemic administrative and procedural issues which require immediate action," and recommended the county's Criminal Justice Advisory Committee address the issues. Efforts to reach District Attorney G. Michael Green for further comment no Friday were unsuccessful.

Whelan said he would look at terminating employees at the prison who were responsible for the unauthorized releases. So far, Whelan said, one clerk has been fired and two more disciplined.

He said he has asked the prison to determine the number of mistaken releases thus far this year.

Councilman Andy Lewis said that number would be made public at the end of the month. "What has happened is unacceptable and we have to get it right," he said.

The latest mistaken release came Tuesday, when Gary Tagland, 21, of Cherry Hill, was freed from the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, which run by a New Jersey-based company, Community Education Centers.

A company spokesman declined to take questions about Tagland's release or to say how many unauthorized releases had occurred during the company's tenure.

Whelan said CEC is hiring nine employees with law enforcement backgrounds to do the paperwork for Delaware County's 10,000-plus prisoner releases per year - work that till now was handled by clerks.

Prison Superintendent John Reilly Jr. did not return calls on Friday seeking comment. Assistant Superintendent Donna Mellon referred all calls to Reilly and then hung up on a reporter.

Tagland was supposed to be moved to a New Jersey jail where he serving time for robbery, according to Deputy District Attorney Daniel McDevitt. He was in Delaware County for a hearing on drug charges pending against him in Springfield Township just prior to his robbery arrest in Pennsauken.

The district attorney's office notified the county by fax that Tagland needed to be sent back to New Jersey after completion of the Springfield Township case, said McDevitt.

"I can't tell you why he was released," he said.

Tagland was not gone long after his Tuesday release. He was taken into custody in New Jersey on Wednesday, said McDevitt.

The releases began drawing attention in June when officials announced that a murder suspect, Taaqi "Fame" Brown, had been mistakenly freed after being confused with another prisoner. He turned himself in the next day.

In July two more inmates - one accused of robbery, the other convicted of gun charges - were let go due to paperwork errors. David Jeffrey Wilson, 19, of Chester, is still at large, McDevitt said.

In May, a former inmate said she was mistakenly released even though she told prison guards she still had time to serve.


Contact staff writer Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149 or mschaefer@phillynews.com.

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