In 2018, with his name and face splashed across the internet, Paul Voglino’s life became a living hell. Accused of sexually assaulting female inmates at Lackawanna County Prison in Pennsylvania, it seemed the prison guard might be condemned to the same life as those over whom he’d formerly watched. More than a year later, in August 2019, the charges against him were dropped. Yet the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office website still has the names of Voglino and six colleagues posted in relation to charges filed that year.
When, in February of 2018, Pennsylvania Attorney General (and now Democratic candidate for governor) Josh Shapiro announced felony criminal charges against the group of guards at a press conference in Harrisburg, the allegations were that guards forced inmates into sex acts in their jail cells and in a utility closet and plied them with perks such as food and cigarettes. But this case has proven to be an embarrassing boomerang for Shapiro, as none of the charges have stuck.
James Walsh pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of harassment, two other guards pleaded no contest to the charge of “official oppression,” and another two, George McHale and Mark Johnson were acquitted at trial. One more case is pending trial. The resolution of these cases, however, cannot erase the images that were beamed across local news of Voglino being perp walked in a sweatshirt and handcuffs. In December 2021 his lawsuit against Shapiro for malicious prosecution was dismissed.
The Lackawanna Prison saga is worth remembering, given that Shapiro in 2020 formed a Conviction Integrity Unit for the purpose of reviewing past convictions and determining whether any were wrongful. Just as importantly, as he is running in this year’s gubernatorial election to succeed term-limited incumbent Tom Wolf, crime is soaring. On the local level Pittsburgh has had 88 homicides so far this year compared to just 51 for all of 2021, while Philadelphia meanwhile is currently at 393 homicides, which is just under the 2021 number at 397.
Both Shapiro and his Republican opponent state Senator Doug Mastriano are running on platforms of being tough on crime. While Shapiro is favored in the polls and has a dramatic fundraising advantage over Mastriano, crime has become a major issue on the campaign trail. In the state’s U.S. Senate race, Democrat Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman has caught heat for supporting commutations and pardons for violent felons like Wayne Covington who murdered an 18-year-old in 1970 for heroin money.
Whatever the result of the November vote, Shapiro will still have a part in the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania, whether as governor for the next four years or as attorney general since his current term ends in 2024.