Luzerne County has retained four experts to review the deaths of four female county prison inmates from June 2017 to January 2018, the administration said.
One expert — National Center on Institutions and Alternatives project director Lindsay M. Hayes — has interviewed prison workers and reviewed each step from the time the inmates entered the Wilkes-Barre correctional facility to determine if protocol changes are warranted, according to county Manager C. David Pedri and Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo.
Hayes is a nationally recognized expert in the field of suicide prevention within prisons and juvenile facilities, the center’s website says. He had been involved in a past county prison assessment and recommended many protocols that are still in place today, Crocamo said.
The county is paying $8,943 for Hayes’ assessment, according to Crocamo.
Meanwhile, three local mental health professionals — psychiatrists Richard Fischbein and Steven R. Kafrissen and psychologist William F. Anzalone Jr. — are performing forensic psychiatric and psychological reviews of each suicide, said Pedri and Crocamo.
The trio started reviewing the records of the four women several weeks ago, Crocamo said, noting the cost of the evaluations will be based on the hours of work involved.
County officials have said they will take action to implement feasible suggested changes, whether they involve monitoring by prison staff or mental health and medical treatment services that are handled by an outside provider.
The county employs unionized licensed practical nurses at the prison, but they take direction from Kansas-based Correct Care Solutions.
Council hired Correct Care in March 2015 as part of a prior administration’s recommendation to partially outsource the medical/mental health services to save the county approximately $600,000 annually.
Under the contract, Correct Care is paid around $2.16 million per year to provide a range of services and personnel, including a medical and mental health team to perform inmate screening, health assessments and examinations. Prescription and non-prescription drugs, emergency ambulance transport and other medical treatment also are included in the package.
As county officials review proposals for a possible provider change, Correct Care recently agreed to help fund cell monitoring cameras, add a mental health professional and implement other measures to step up suicide prevention.
Three of the female inmates died from hangings deemed suicides: Brooke Griesing on June 8, 2017; Tricia Cooper on July 25, 2017; and Hailey Povisil on Jan. 9.
The July 7, 2017, death of Joan Rosengrant was ruled accidental; it was caused by the combined effect of prescription drugs complicated by her unspecified physical condition, officials determined.
In light of the recent anniversary of her sister’s death, Plymouth Township resident Tara Cooper issued a statement urging the public to remember the four inmates.
The family has received “minimal and incomplete answers” from the prison and is working with an attorney to get to the bottom of what happened, she said, declining to release a name or divulge specific plans at this time.
”I intend to pursue this matter to the fullest to find out how these poor women in time of need actually were able to carry out such a desperate act,” she said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.