PHILADELPHIA – The private company that runs the George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Delaware County has settled a civil lawsuit by agreeing to pay $7 million to the family of an Upper Darby woman who committed suicide in 2015, as well as make vast policy changes at the institution, attorneys for the family announced Thursday.
Janene Wallace, 35, committed suicide on May 26, 2015, after being placed in solitary confinement for 52 days at the facility, which at the time was run by the for-profit Community Education Centers (CEC) Inc., where she had been mistreated by guards and denied proper medical attention and supervision, said plaintiff’s attorney David Inscho, of Kline & Specter, PC. The facility is now operated by GEO Group Inc.
Media attorney Scott Kramer, who represented Wallace before her death, had once called her the “poster child for mental health rights.”
Wallace had been incarcerated for violating probation on a 2013 conviction of threatening another woman over the phone. She had a history of mental illness, specifically depression, anxiety, and paranoia, according to information released Thursday by Inscho. Despite having no history of violence or documented misbehavior at the prison, guards put Wallace into solitary confinement for 23 hours daily.
She was denied required daily medical checks, a psychological assessment review after 30 days and even forced to go without basic necessities such as blankets, sheets and towels. After a verbal altercation with one guard, witnesses said the guard demeaned Wallace and taunted her and told her to kill herself. Wallace, using a bra strap, hung herself in her cell.
That guard and two others were fired and a fourth was suspended.
In addition to the monetary settlement, the George Hill facility, which was operated by CEC from 2009 until the company was purchased by GEO Group Inc. in 2017, agreed to revise its Suicide Prevention and Restricted Housing policies. Among the changes is a requirement that inmates with serious mental illness not be placed in restrictive housing due to symptoms related to mental illness; and if such a placement is required for security reasons, the inmate must be evaluated by a psychologist within 24 hours to guard against an increased risk of suicide. Also, no prisoner can be placed in restricted housing without approval of a shift supervisor and without a medical evaluation, with medical visits three times daily and a written evaluation by a psychologist within seven days.
Such placements must be approved by the warden within 24 hours, reviewed by a committee every seven days and then again be approved by the warden in writing after 30 days.
“This is a significant result for a family dedicated to obtaining justice for their daughter and seeking to prevent future mistreatment of the mentally ill at George W. Hill Correctional Facility,” said Inscho. “The company that profited from holding Janene in solitary confinement and whose employee taunted her to kill herself were held responsible. Equally as important, the new operator has agreed to make substantial changes that will prevent mentally ill people from being held in these cruel and inhumane conditions.”