Private Prison Pays $7 Million in Suicide Settlement

Private Prison Pays $7 Million in Suicide Settlement

Janene Wallace hanged herself at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania’s Delaware County in 2015. At the time of her death, at age 35, the prison was run by the for-profit Community Education Centers (CEC) Inc. On November 9, CEC agreed to pay her family $7 million in a settlement. The company also agreed to make “vast policy changes,” according to the agreement.  CEC was purchased by the GEO Group Inc. earlier this year.

According to her family’s attorney, the Upper Darby resident had a history of mental illness and spent 52 days in solitary confinement at the facility. The attorney alleges a guard “taunted” Wallace, urging her to kill herself. She eventually did so, using her bra strap to hang herself. That guard and two others have been fired. Another guard received a suspension.

Two months after Wallace’s death, another inmate committed suicide. Richard D’Andrea used a rope from a laundry bag to hang himself. He, too, had a history of mental health issues.

Depression, Paranoia and Anxiety

Wallace suffered from depression, paranoia and anxiety. She was incarcerated for a probation violation after being convicted in 2013 of making phone threats to another woman.  Although Wallace had no history of violent behavior, she was placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

Wallace’s mother, Susan, alleged her daughter was “abandoned” in the 8 -by-10-foot cell for 10 weeks prior to her suicide. According to her mother, Wallace block the window into her cell with a mattress – she was convinced she was being watched - and tied her bra around the slats of the air vents.

Susan Wallace believes that correct treatment and monitoring would have saved her daughter, and said prison personnel lacked the proper training to deal with mentally ill inmates.

On the day of her suicide, May 26, 2015, Wallace was last seen alive at 4:30 a.m. during a routine check. Just an hour later, she was found hanging from the bra strap on the vent. One of the air vents was covered with sanitary napkins, which her mother also attributes to her daughter’s paranoia over being watched.

A Downward Spiral

Janene Wallace had a normal girlhood, according to her mother. She was a Girl Scout, was active in sports and had many friends. Wallace graduated from Upper Darby High School in 1998, and went to Bloomburg University as a design major. She eventually dropped out, embarking on a series of part-time jobs. While Wallace was prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-depressants medication, her mother believes her mental illness was much more serious, but her daughter did not want to seek help.

In 2011, Wallace was arrested for a DUI and was discovered to possess several knives. In 2012, she was arrested for making death threats over the phone to another woman. In 2013, she was arrested for making death threats to the same victim, and was charged with making terroristic threats and simple assault, although the latter charge was dropped. She pleaded guilty to the terroristic threat charge.

Prior to her probation violation, Wallace was placed in an outpatient facility. She was ordered not to make contact with her victim and to undergo mental evaluations.   

Revised Suicide Prevention Policies

As part of the settlement, the facility agreed to revise its suicide prevention and restricted housing policies. The changes include not placing inmates suffering from mental illness in restrictive housing because of their mental illness symptoms.

If security necessitates such a placement, the inmate must receive a psychological evaluation within 24 hours to prevent an increased suicide risk. Any inmate placed in restrictive housing must have a medical evaluation and the approval of a shift supervisor.

The prisoner must receive medical visits three times a day and a psychologist must provide a written evaluation within a week.

Within 24 hours, the warden must approve any such placement. A committee must review the placement each week and the warden must approve it again, in writing, within a month.

The George W. Hill Correctional Facility released a statement, which includes the following: “This case does underscore the challenges caused by people with mental health issues often being funneled into the prison system, due to a lack of available inpatient treatment options.”  

Susan Wallace also issued a statement, which reads in part: “Janene was a wonderful woman with a kind heart. She had an illness and needed treatment for that illness. By bringing a lawsuit we were able to uncover the horrible mistreatment she received at the privately operated prison.”

If you or a family member are the victim of prison personnel inept in the handling of people with mental health issues, resulting in injury or death, a lawsuit might be your best option for uncovering the facts, stopping future horrors, and winning a compensation amount sufficient to cause prison officials to take action. Call Us 866.836.4684 or Connect Online

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