Skip navigation

$7 Million Settlement for Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Suicide at Private Prison

A $7 million settlement was reached in the suicide death of a mentally ill prisoner at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility (GWHCF) in Thornton, Pennsylvania, operated at the time by private prison company Community Education Centers.

When she was in her late twenties, Janene Wallace was diagnosed with mental illness. She was sent to GWHCF in 2013 following her conviction for terroristic threats that stemmed from phone calls she made to a high school acquaintance. She was released on probation, but violated its terms in 2015 by traveling out of state without permission.

Wallace again landed in GWHCF and was placed in solitary confinement due to her depressive and paranoid behavior. She reportedly refused to bathe, was making irrational statements and rubbed menstrual blood on a shower wall. She also accused guards of trying to harm her.

The door to Wallace’s solitary confinement cell had a sign on it stating she was “unstable.” At the time of her death, she had been in segregation for 50 days and had not been out of her cell for 85 hours.

Prior to hanging herself with her bra from a cell vent on May 26, 2015, Wallace got into an argument with a guard.

“The guard called her a ‘dirty bitch’ and told her to kill herself,” said David K. Inscho, the attorney representing Wallace’s estate. “Janene yelled out that she was going to choke herself, and the guard said, ‘go ahead and choke yourself.’”

GWHCF policy required prisoners in solitary confinement to have daily medical checks, psychiatric evaluations after 30 days and a security evaluation to determine whether they should remain in segregation.

“Those are the basic ground rules,” Inscho said. “None of these were followed with regard to Janene.” He added, “What she needed was a mental health evaluation and mental health treatment. That never happened.”

Wallace’s estate filed a wrongful death action and the case settled for $7 million in November 2017. Wallace’s suicide was just one of many incidents at the privately-operated facility.

Between 2002 and 2008, GWHCF was run by The GEO Group. During that time period at least a dozen prisoners died. Following a series of wrongful death lawsuits, GEO abandoned its contract and Community Education Centers (CEC) took over management of the prison; Janene committed suicide while CEC had the contract. GEO then took control of GWHCF after it acquired CEC for $360 million in April 2017. [See: PLN, July 2017, p.29].

While GEO Group was not operating the prison when Wallace committed suicide, it became involved in the wrongful death suit after it acquired CEC. See: Wallace v. Community Education Centers, Inc., Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County (PA), Case No. 160200164.

As part of the settlement with Wallace’s estate, GEO agreed to revise its suicide prevention and restricted housing policies. While those changes sound good on paper, past experience has shown that privatized prisons are mainly concerned with making a profit, not providing adequate medical and mental health care or humane conditions of confinement for prisoners. 

Sources: www.philly.com, www.people.com, www.cbsnews.com

Related legal case

Wallace v. Community Education Centers, Inc.