The family of Veronique Aundrea Henry, who committed suicide at the York County Prison, filed a wrongful death suit in a Pennsylvania District Court. Henry had a lengthy record of criminal activity with convictions for theft, forgery, and drug possession. She was being housed at the York County facility on murder-related charges when she was found to have hung herself in her jail cell. The surviving family says that prison staff should have recognized that she was a suicide risk and closely monitored her activity. The claim names numerous defendants including the former warden, York County, several correctional and medical staff members.
The claim detailed Henry's long history of physical and mental health conditions. She had battled with alcoholism and opioid addiction and was facing a potential life sentence at the time. They allege that the prison intake staff lacked the qualifications to detect mental health problems. The plaintiffs say that the incident could have been prevented if she was given proper psychiatric treatment. The prison staff denies having any knowledge of Henry's suicidal state.
The claim asserts that Henry was denied her constitutional rights and subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment.” Further claims included that the facility demonstrated a failure to train, supervise, and monitor. The defendants were also said to have acted with “deliberate indifference” as it related to Henry's medical care.
Pennsylvania Correctional Department Suicide Data
Since 2012, the York County institution has had three suicides and approximately 50 attempted suicides. They have a suicide protocol in place that is part of the core staff training. It explains that the majority of suicidal inmates will make reference to experiencing suicidal thoughts or developing a plan for suicide. Their guidelines explain that suicidal feelings are generally in response to significant stress or pressure that may result from the following.
- Inability to cope with legal setbacks, such as denials for parole.
- The death of a friend or loved one or divorce.
- Being diagnosed with a severe illness.
- After being victimized in a sexual manner.
- Being relocated to a different correctional facility.
Pennsylvania Prior Court Ruling on Prison Suicide
The U.S. District Court for Pennsylvania's Western District previously addressed some legal aspects regarding prison suicide. They stated that a plaintiff must prove three key elements to prevail:
- The individual in custody had a “vulnerability to suicide.”
- That correctional staff was aware of this vulnerability (or should have been).
- The corrections staff demonstrated “reckless indifference” regarding the individual's state.
It was further explained that proving a defendant was recklessly indifferent is a challenging standard to satisfy. The indifference must extend beyond simple negligence. In fact, the defendants must be proven to have known that a “strong likelihood” existed that the individual would harm themselves. It must be proven that the defendant failed to take “reasonable precautions” to protect the individual who they have a duty to care for.
Wrongful Death in Pennsylvania
The law allows “surviving beneficiaries” to pursue compensation for damages through claims of wrongful death or survival actions. Beneficiaries generally are spouses, children or other immediate family. The statute of limitations for bringing a claim in the majority of cases is two years. Those seeking to pursue these actions are encouraged to seek experienced legal counsel.