Pennsylvania prisons have many endemic problems. The Department of Justice itself has signaled Philadelphia as having one of the nation’s highest incidence of guard-on-inmate sexual abuse.
Women are among the most frequent victims of a corrupted system. According to the last available data from the Corrections Department, 115 incidents of abusive and unjustified restraining of pregnant women were reported during a single year, with 90 taking place in Blair County, home to the infamous Blair County Prison.
In some cases, officers used both handcuffs and shackles.
Non-white individuals are also at a disadvantage in Pennsylvania. A Sentencing Project report found that the state has the 7th highest racial disparity in the country, with a ratio of 8.9 Black inmates per every white person incarcerated.
Mentally ill prisoners have no better luck. There have been countless complaints about systematic neglect in Pennsylvania prisons and jails. Lack of appropriate mental health care has often driven psychotic and schizophrenic patients to suicide, aided by the torture of solitary confinement.
Our jail death and injury attorneys have obtained multi-million dollar settlements and verdicts in cases of wrongful death, inmate abuse, and medical neglect at various correctional facilities and through local Pennsylvania attorneys can file lawsuits for PA prisoners. Aided by a team of investigators with wide ranging connections across the state’s correctional system, our civil rights advocates have honed proven strategies to maximize compensation and contribute to prison reform.
Isolation Cells, Pennsylvania’s Infamous Invention
Pennsylvania was once a model of prison reform. It was the first region in the world to eliminate whipping and other corporal punishments.
The alternative was, according to reports from the era, “the complete isolation of the prisoner from all human society.” In other words, Pennsylvania invented the solitary confinement system, the scourge that is responsible for countless civil rights violations in U.S. prisons.
Inspired by Quaker values, the idea of prison as a penitentiary (a place for penitents) where prisoners had to be isolated so they could repent about their crimes, did not impress novelist Charles Dickens, who visited Walnut Street Jail in 1842.
As the whole world looked at Pennsylvania as an example of prison reform, Dickens commented,
“I am persuaded that those who designed this system... do not know what it is they are doing... I hold the slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.”
A large portion of today’s Pennsylvania inmates are not far from those poor wretches left completely isolated, to read the Bible and contemplate their crimes in the 19th century. In the present day, a mental health diagnosis is the fastest track to an isolation cell in Pennsylvania.
In fact, not even Dickens, who witnessed England´s inhumane workhouses, could have imagined some of the horrors that go on in Pennsylvania prisons in the 21st century.
Pennsylvania’s Treatment of Mentally Ill Inmates: Welcome to Hell, PA
Pennsylvania’s neglect of mentally ill inmates is well documented.
It was largely reported in the press in 2013, when the local chapter of the Disability Rights Network filed a complaint against the state “for abuse of prisoners diagnosed as ‘seriously mentally ill.”
According to the lawsuit, in Pennsylvania, hundreds of inmates with severe mental diagnoses are routinely kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, and 24 during weekends, without any treatment or access to rehabilitation programs.
For activist Dan Moshenberg,
“It’s a vicious, even criminal, cycle. People deemed seriously mentally ill end up in solitary, which then results in parole denial, which sends them back to the hole.”
The case of a woman who was held at SCI-Muncy is a perfect example of these horrendous abuses, and the consequences they often have.
The 39-year old inmate had a lengthy track record of mental health issues, suicide attempts, and institutionalization. Diagnosed with bipolar and schizoaffective disorders, the woman, who also has a low IQ, was placed in solitary confinement as punishment for misbehavior that could be directly attributed to her mental condition, such as flooding her cell and harming herself.
While in solitary confinement, the inmate’s mental health took a turn for the worse.
She was denied parole on account of misconduct, and although a psychiatrist mandated she should receive rehabilitative care, she never received any. She remained, in the hole, with the lights on, day and night, her mental disorders in full control of her being. As Moshenberg synthesized in an article detailing the abuses, “Living with serious mental illness? Welcome to Hell.”
Worst Pennsylvania Prisons
Lackawanna County Prison: This overcrowded prison has a track record of shocking civil rights violations. In February, 2018, six male officers and one former officer with the Corrections Department were charged with sexually abusing female inmates, in some cases, for over a decade.
According to a New York Times report,
“The seven men created a culture of fear and coerced sex inside the Lackawanna County Prison in Scranton, using their positions of power over the inmates to force them into sexual acts in cells and utility closets.”
Pennsylvania´s Attorney General Josh Shapiro has told reporters that the abusers would alert one another when supervisors were nearby, in order to avoid getting caught in the act. “This was not one rogue prison guard. They took advantage of [inmates] for their own sick gratification. Then they threatened to make these inmates’ lives worse if they told anyone about the abuse,” Shapiro commented.
This pervasive culture of rape is not Lackwanna´s only problem. Some years back, a grand jury found guards had used prisoners as their "personal labor force," over a period of about 15 years.
State Correctional Institution Albion: According to a 2014 prisoners’ petition “to end torture and abuse” at Albion, the facility is known for,
“frequent abuse & torture of prisoners, some are held years in solitary confinement without any chance to see daylight, medical negligence has led to the suffering and death of thousands of prisoners. Lack of adequate mental health care has driven many to commit suicide.”
At Albion, many mental patients are held in a Psychological Observation Cell (POC), often under the supervision of unlicensed psychologists. Prisoners have described these cells as “torture chambers,” where inmates are confined 24/7 without receiving therapy, and where the lights are always on. “These torture chambers only intensify their psychoses that only make them worse upon their return to general population, causing them to receive misconducts and then warehousing them in RHU (Solitary Confinement),” a prisoner has commented.
State Correctional Institution Camp Hill: The rampant neglect and abuse at Camp Hill made headlines in December, 2017, when it became known that an inmate had died, after a terrible agony, of stage 4 lung cancer, which went untreated and undiagnosed at the facility.
In fact, Vermont had a contract to house some of their inmates at Camp Hill, but the arrangement was terminated on account of “severe conditions” and several cases of neglect and abuse reported at the correctional institution.
Among other reported violations, Camp Hill staff have sexually abused inmates, chained mentally ill prisoners to the floor for over 72 hours, and threatened physical violence. Victims have also denounced “multiple instances of officers withholding food (meals) as punishment,” and the fact that the facility routinely forces regular prisoners to spend 19 hours per day in their cells.
On October 15, 2017, Roger Brown died of lung cancer after several weeks of excruciating pain. In spite of his requests and desperate pleas to guard, he was denied the medical care that could have saved his life.
Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary: At this overcrowded maximum security prison, inmates are routinely shackled as punishment for minor incidents, like refusing their cell assignments. A 2016 NPR report revealed that there have been over 40 prisoner complaints about these illegal disciplinary practices.
In one case, an inmate who refused to share his cell with a known violent and psychopathic cellmate was handcuffed and ankle-cuffed, in addition, a chain was placed around his chest, making it difficult for him to breathe.
The man, whose name is Sebastian Richardson, was dressed in a paper uniform and left shackled in a cell with an open window, during the Pennsylvania winter. Soaked in urine and unable to reach the top bunk, he often slept on the concrete floor. He remained in shackles for 28 days. His crime: refusing to bunk with a man who had assaulted each and every one of his former cellmates.
Lewisburg inmates spend 23 or 24 hours in their cells, accompanied by their cellmates. According to one lawsuit, guards often pair sworn enemies together, which has already led to two deaths.
Multi-million Dollar Settlements in Pennsylvania Inmate Abuse, Neglect, and Wrongful Death Cases
Your family member may not have suffered in vain. In spite of the prison system’s rampant corruption, there is hope. Our top-tier jail abuse specialists have a proven track record of exposing brutal prison systems like Pennsylvania’s and influencing policy.
In November, 2017, Janene Wallace’s family received a $7 million settlement. Wallace, a mentally ill woman was arrested in 2013 for public misconduct connected to her paranoia symptoms. She was sent to the George W. Hill Correctional Facility after violating the terms of her probation by crossing state lines.
During the last 52 days of her life, she was locked in solitary confinement. Plagued by severe depression and paranoia, and without receiving any of the mandated mental health care, she was on the brink of suicide, when a guard encouraged her to kill herself. And so she did.
Wallace killed herself on May 26, 2015. She had been kept in an isolation cell for 23 hours a day, for 52 long days, until she couldn’t take it anymore. A spokesperson for the family has commented, “Janene’s greatest crime was having a mental illness.”
Sometimes inmates are looking for much more than money when they enlist experienced attorneys like us to file a lawsuit. That was the case of 65-year-old Arthur Johnson, who received a $325,000 settlement in December, 2018.
Johnson had spent 37 years in solitary confinement, released only for an hour each weekday into a metal cage. Sentenced to life over a gang-related murder, he had attempted to escape during the 1970s and 1980s. Since 1987, however, he was a “model prisoner” according to guards.
Traumatized by decades of isolation, Johnson sought, and obtained, a settlement that guarantees that he will never be placed in solitary confinement based on offenses from his past. He was also able to get a transfer to a Pennsylvania prison closer to his family.
In 2015, the estate of an Allegheny County Jail inmate received a $2 million settlement from the jail’s health care provider’s insurer. 28-year-old Derek Black got into a fight with a fellow inmate. Though the resulting wounds were not deadly, he was denied medical attention, and died shortly after. Black’s estate also received $90,000 from the county.
In September, 2016, a federal jury reached an $11.9 million verdict in the case against PrimeCare, a company that provided health care services to Monroe County Correctional Facility inmates, over the wrongful death of Mumum Barbaros.
Barbaros died in a cell in 2009, only a few days after he was arrested. Although he told medical staff that he was on several medications, including antidepressants, he did not receive them in jail as required. He committed suicide after a mental health professional deemed him not a self-harm risk.
The jury found that both PrimeCare and several of its employees had been negligent, and ultimately caused Barbaros’ death.
You Have a Limited Time to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Pennsylvania. Act Now
In Pennsylvania, you must file a wrongful death claim within two years of the date of the victim’s death. But it is best not to wait. Prison authorities have earned a reputation for tampering with evidence and concealing important documents when there is a suspicion of foul play or negligence in an inmate death case.
Consult with one of our jail death and abuse attorneys. We partner with the best in Pennsylvania – aggressive lawyers who care about an inmate’s civil rights and have a track record of successful civil rights lawsuits. You can influence policy and secure much-deserved compensation. There is hope.
Call Now to Learn Your Rights. No Cost Consultation. 866.836.4684 OR CONNECT ONLINE