Janene Wallace was found on May 26, 2015, dead in her cell at George W. Hill Correctional Facility, having hung herself with a bra she tied to an air vent. The 35-year-old spent her final days locked in solitary confinement where she was being held on a probation violation. A lawsuit was filed on behalf of her estate following the woman’s suicide.
Wallace, who was plagued by mental health issues, deteriorated tremendously during those final days. As her mental condition worsened, the inmate was allegedly taunted by a prison guard who encouraged her to end her life.
Once the circumstances behind her death came to light, Wallace’s estate filed a complaint against Community Education Centers, a for-profit prison company that operated the facility at the time, led by attorneys David Inscho and Shanin Specter. This lawsuit recently settled for $7 million.
Inscho said Wallace’s mother, Susanne, reached out to him to learn more about her daughter’s death. She found the circumstances to be appalling, claiming her daughter had no history of violence or misbehavior at the prison but was denied basic medical care anyway.
“What struck me was that Susanne wanted answers that no one in Delaware County or at the prison would tell her,” Inscho said. “Janene’s greatest crime was having a mental illness.” He added that Wallace was one of about 700 inmates at Hill who have mental illnesses.
Those in solitary confinement at Hill are supposed to have daily routine medical checks complete with psychiatric evaluations after thirty days. These evaluations were to be completed security personnel to see if the inmates should remain in isolation.
“Those are the basic ground rules. None of them were followed with regard to Janene,” Inscho said on behalf of her estate.
Wallace was arrested in 2013 on harassment charges that were related to her paranoia. She violated the terms of her probation when she opted to travel across the country. This violation is what caused her imprisonment at Hill.
A few days before the woman’s death, she was evaluated by a psychiatrist, as scheduled, who recommended Wallace be returned to the general population rather than be kept in solitary. But, despite this recommendation, Wallace was allegedly returned to isolation after she appeared to be anxious and agitated. From there, she spent Memorial Day weekend alone behind bars.
Wallace had gotten into a verbal altercation with a corrections officer on the day she committed suicide. “The guard called her a ‘dirty b–’ and told her to kill herself,” Inscho said. “Janene yelled out that she was going to choke herself, and the guard said, ‘Go ahead and choke yourself.’” That guard and two others allegedly involved have since been terminated.
At least twelve inmates have met their demise at the correctional facilities in the six-year period between 2002 and 2008 when Hill was run by the GEO Group. GEO, which was established decades ago, abandoned its contract in 2009, following several wrongful death lawsuits. The New Jersey-based CEC then took over. GEO regained control this year, after purchasing CEC for $360 million.
Inscho said, in addition to the settlement received, GEO has agreed to revise its suicide prevention and restricted housing policies. Mentally ill inmates will not be held in solitary confinement due to symptoms related to their illnesses, and those who are held in isolation will be evaluated by a psychologist within 24 hours. Medical visits will also take place three times per day.