PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Suzanne Wallace remembers her daughter Janene during happier times.
“Janene was very creative, very intelligent and beautiful,” she said at a Thursday new conference, announcing lawyers for her late daughter’s estate had reached a $7 million settlement.
This mother’s focus will always be on the events that unfolded in a jail cell May 26, 2015.
Janene Wallace, 35 of Upper Darby, had been locked in solitary confinement for 52 days.
She had been picked up for making terroristic threats – a probation violation.
It was a holiday weekend – and Janene’s mental condition, lawyers say, was rapidly deteriorating.
“Ms. Wallace had been locked in her cell for 85 straight hours at that point,” Attorney David Inscho, who is representing the estate, said.
Witnesses said: “guards threw food at Ms. Wallace in her cell,” according to court documents obtained by Eyewitness News. “Witnesses described that the guards treated Ms. Wallace like a dog.”
A lawsuit filed against Community Education Centers, a New Jersey company that operated Delaware County’s George T Hill prison in 2015 shows Janene got into an argument with a guard.
“Janene called out from her cell that she was going to choke herself and the guard told her to go ahead and choke herself,” Inscho said.
The suit shows Janene covered her cell windows, and instead of checking on her, the guard, who has since been fired according to court documents, took a lunch break.
Janene Wallace was later found by a supervisor.
She had hanged herself.
“She was a different person when she was younger, until the mental illness hit her,” Susanne Wallace said.
Janene, a graduate of Upper Darby High School, was said to have a severe case of paranoia that set in late in her 20s. Attorneys for her family said she had no history of violence.
Following her death, an internal investigation by the prison contractor into the handling of Wallace’s suicide was severely lacking – including claims statements by fellow inmates the morning of her suicide had been destroyed. Attorneys say the county was never briefed on the details of her death, or the events surrounding it.
“What happened to Janene should have been fully investigated by the private contractor,” Inscho said.
Now a family is pushing for reform, even though it’s too late for them.
“Nothing will bring back Janene, obviously,” Wallace said. “But we don’t want another family to go through what we went through.”
A Vice President for The Geo Group, which has since acquired Community Education Centers, couldn’t talk about the settlement – but pointed out they weren’t managing the facility at the time of the suicide.
Delaware County Council said in a statement that The GEO Group is initiating revisions to policies for inmate confinement, including medical assessment and intervention — those steps, lawyers say, were brought about by this lawsuit.