WILKES-BARRE — Another female inmate death is under investigation at the Luzerne County Prison, bringing the count to four women in less than a year.
The death of three female inmates in June and July sparked discussion about preventive measures during county council meetings and calls for answers from the relatives of two of the deceased.
According to a Wednesday announcement from county Correctional Services Division Head Mark Rockovich, 21-year-old inmate Hailey Povisil was found unresponsive in her prison cell around 9:15 p.m. Tuesday.
He said the death appeared to be a suicide.
Correctional officers immediately responded and provided life-saving measures until the facility’s medical personnel arrived, he said. Emergency responders then transported Povisil to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 10:07 p.m., he said.
Povisil had been locked up on promoting prostitution and federal firearm charges, Rockovich reported.
She was lodged in the Water Street prison on Saturday following a county bench warrant for failure to appear for a court proceeding, prison officials said. A federal detainer also had been issued for the gun charge, according to the prison.
Prison officials immediately notified the county District Attorney’s Office, which is investigating.
An autopsy to determine the official cause of death is pending, and Povisil’s next-of-kin have been notified, said Rockovich.
Two inmates died from hangings last year — Brooke Griesing on June 8 and Tricia Cooper on July 25. Meanwhile, the July 7 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.
‘My heart breaks’
Family members of Griesing and Cooper have retained Kingston attorney Eugene Sperazza to represent their interests and conduct an initial investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding their deaths.
Cooper’s sister, Tara, burst into tears Wednesday when she learned about the latest death.
“They should not be succeeding in what they’re doing,” Cooper said in reference to suicides. “Something’s wrong.”
She said her quest for information about her sister’s death continues.
“My heart breaks. I pray for the family of these other girls,” Cooper said.
Rockovich had highlighted current suicide prevention efforts at an August council meeting, including questionnaire assessments and annual officer training on suicide.
Flagged inmates are placed on suicide watch, which means they are physically checked at least every 15 minutes by correctional officers and possibly by fellow inmates who undergo mental health training. The highest-risk inmates are on “maximum watch” and always are shadowed by an inmate suicide monitor, Rockovich has said. The three women who died last year were not on suicide watch, officials have said.
Prison officials said Wednesday they will again seek feedback from outside experts on any additional steps that may be warranted.
Sheila Saidman, who took office as a council member this month, had encouraged prison officials in August to seek more psychiatric input and consider subsequent suicide screenings, particularly for inmates withdrawing from opioids behind bars.
Saidman said Wednesday she has confidence prison staff and officials are “doing everything they can” to prevent suicides and embrace suggestions for viable improvements.
“Everybody is very upset about this,” Saidman said.
Council Chairman Tim McGinley said the administration still plans to hold a public presentation by the prison’s outside health care provider in the near future.
“I feel very sorry for the prisoner and her family,” McGinley said. “Obviously it has been a very tragic time for the prison and its staff having to deal with multiple deaths.”
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.