Credit: Shutterstock.com

A privately-owned Delaware County prison has agreed to pay $7 million to the family of a mentally ill inmate who was allegedly mistreated by staff, denied psychiatric treatment and encouraged to kill herself by a guard.

Additionally, the prior owner of the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, Community Education Centers Inc., agreed to implement policy reforms in its facilities geared toward preventing future suicides.

Janene Wallace, 35, who suffered from depression, anxiety and paranoia, committed suicide on May 26, 2015, during a 52-day period in solitary confinement. Wallace committed suicide by hanging herself from a ventilation grate with her bra. She had been incarcerated for violating probation for a conviction of making terroristic threats against another woman over the phone, according to court papers.

Kline & Specter attorney David Inscho represented Susanne Wallace, Janene Wallace’s mother, in the case.

“This is a significant recovery against a private company operating the Delaware County jail. A private prison company, even though it performs a government function, was not entitled to immunity and could be held responsible under the common law of the commonwealth,” Inscho said in an email, adding that the settlement was also significant because the policy changes the company agreed to will prevent mentally ill people from being held in solitary confinement and inmates from being placed in restricted housing units without proper monitoring. “This will hopefully prevent similar tragedies going forward.”

DiOrio & Sereni in Media represented the defendants. In a statement issued by the firm, it said the case highlights the challenges of mentally-ill inmates.

“Although the circumstances involving Ms. Wallace occurred during the term of the previous provider, CEC, the Prison Board and the current provider, GEO, will continue their efforts to reevaluate relevant prison policies and procedures. Since it began the process of its transition, GEO has initiated a review and revision of existing policy and procedure concerning inmate confinement, including medical assessment and intervention,” the statement read

The plaintiff claimed Janene Wallace was denied daily medical checks and essentials such as blankets, sheets and towels. Her mother also claimed in court papers that a guard told her to “go ahead and choke herself” after she threatened to commit suicide.

However, according to the defendants’ papers, “Ms. Wallace refused any medical or mental health treatment while at the prison, which appears consistent with her behavior outside of prison where plaintiff has testified that her daughter refused treatment, and specifically, mental health treatment, in the years before her incarceration.”

The defendants also implied that Susanne Wallace could not stand to live with her daughter.

“Plaintiff Susanne Wallace had to move into a different house in the year after [Janene] Wallace’s incarceration in 2013 because, according to her husband Howard Wallace, he was not going to ‘make my daughter homeless and not giver her a place to live,’ clearly implying that plaintiff would not live in the same house as her daughter Janene Wallace.”