Parents sue over death of son at SCI Cresson

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The parents of Brandon Palakovic, who committed suicide in July 2012 while serving a prison sentence in State Correctional Institute Cresson, sued state officials Tuesday alleging that they violated Palakovic’s constitutional rights, leading to his death.

Palakovic was serving 16 to 48 months for burglary when he hung himself in his cell, at the age of 23. His parents, Rennee and Darian Palakovic, allege that his mental health problems were largely ignored or mistreated, and they said repeated monthlong stints in solitary confinement were used excessively in handling Palakovic.

Defendants in the case include John Wetzel, then-secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections; Kenneth Cameron, superintendent of Cresson at the time; and seven others involved with the prison including the deputy secretary and chief psychologist.

Cresson is about 90 miles east of Pittsburgh in Cambria County. The prison closed in June 2013 after a critical Department of Justice report.

MHM Inc., which was under contract with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to provide mental health care services to prisoners, also was named in the lawsuit

In an interview this week, Palakovic’s mother called the treatment of prisoners at Cresson “abhorrent” and said her son was “controlled by the use of solitary confinement” and denied the treatment he “desperately needed.”

Palakovic had a troubled past, including stints in state and federal prison, according to Mrs. Palakovic, who said her son suffered from oppositional defiance disorder, ADHD and possibly bipolar disorder.

Mrs. Palakovic described her son as intelligent and funny, but she also acknowledged his faults, saying she was a “believer in the system.”

“Brandon did things wrong and should have accepted the punishment, but he shouldn’t have been treated like an animal.” She said she hopes the lawsuit will shed light on the poor treatment of prisoners at Cresson and prevent future misconduct.

Palakovic’s suicide was the second in a little more than a year at Cresson.

A Department of Justice report published in May 2013 found that Cresson’s use of “long-term and extreme forms of solitary confinement on prisoners with serious mental illness, many of whom also have intellectual disabilities, violates their rights under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Prisoner rights advocacy group Human Rights Coalition has published several reports on allegations that guards at Cresson mistreated prisoners. According to the reports, guards would encourage prisoners to commit suicide, deny access to records and curtail their ability to file complaints.

The lawsuit claims Palakovic’s treatment at the prison violated his rights to be free of cruel and unusual punishment and to due process. It also alleges that his treatment violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and caused his wrongful death. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

According to the complaint, solitary confinement at Cresson consisted of 23 hours per day in a 100-square-foot cells with small windows “allowing minimal visibility onto the cellblock.”

Albert Anderson: or 412-263-1454.


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