Civil actions often end with jury verdicts or settlements that provide an injured party with monetary compensation. But in some cases they bring about change – such as safety improvements or revamped policies and regulations -- that helps ensure there won’t be future victims.
Such was the case with litigation involving a mentally ill inmate at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Delaware County. Thirty-five-year-old Janene Wallace, of Upper Darby, committed suicide on May 26, 2015 after being placed for 52 days in solitary confinement at the facility run by the for-profit Community Education Centers (CEC), Inc. She had been denied proper medical attention and supervision, even basic necessities such as blankets, sheets and towels. The final straw came when Wallace, who suffered from depression, anxiety, and paranoia, taunted by a prison guard who told her to kill herself. Later that same day, Wallace, using a bra strap, hung herself in her cell.
A civil lawsuit in the case resulted in a $7 million settlement. Also, GEO Group Inc., the private, for-profit company that took over operation of the facility earlier this year, agreed to a litany of policy changes at the prison, including the following:
Revised policy on Suicide Prevention
- Inmates with serious mental illness will never be housed in restrictive housing units due to symptoms related to mental illness.
- If inmates with mental illness must placed in a restrictive housing unit for a security reason a psychologist shall evaluate them within 24 hours to assure that restricted housing will not result in a worsening of psychological health or increased suicide risk.
Revised policy on Restricted Housing
- No inmate is placed in segregation without approval of the shift supervisor. (A Sgt placed Janene in segregation)
- No inmate is placed in segregation without an evaluation by medical.
- Any placement in segregation must be approved by the warden within 24 hours.
- Medical must visit inmates on segregation units 3x a day (once per shift). (Prior policy required once daily visits)
- Within seven days of an inmate being placed on segregation a psychologist or psychiatrist shall interview shall perform a written evaluation of the inmate. Subsequent evaluations are to be performed every 30 days an inmate remains in segregation. (Previously no evaluation was required until an inmate was in seg for 30 days.)
- Placements in segregation shall be reviewed by the classification committee every 7 days.
- If an inmate is held in segregation for 30 days, the warden must approve the segregation in writing.
- Every seven days the unit manager must review an inmate’s segregation and interview the inmate and document the reasons for continuing segregation. (Previously there was no requirement to interview the inmate)
Additionally, the Warden, Chief of Security, Deputy Wardens, Health Services Administrator, and Classification Coordinator will hold weekly meetings where each inmate on segregation units status and the reason for their status is reviewed to assure compliance with the policy above.
Attorney David Inscho, of Kline & Specter, PC, who negotiated the settlement, said he hopes the policy changes will help make sure an incident of this kind never takes place at the prison again.
He told the news media: “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.”