Family demands change at Luzerne County prison after daughter's death
A month and a half after Mercedes Alaimo died inside Luzerne County Correctional Facility, her mother and sisters stood outside the Water Street prison with a small group holding signs.
“We don’t want another life gone,” said Hollie Baldwin, Alaimo’s mother, speaking through a bullhorn. She shouted toward the building, addressing inmates who knocked on their cell windows, indicating they could hear her.
“We are trying to get you help," Baldwin said. "We see you. We hear you. Stay strong.”
Alaimo, 25, died by suicide while incarcerated on Feb. 13, two days after she entered the prison. Her family believes distress due to withdrawal from opioids and a lack of supervision led to her death.
Detoxification from drugs without medical assistance is dangerous and could lead to more suicides, the group of protesters said on Sunday. They want to see county officials make changes at the prison so that no one else dies like Alaimo.
“They need to be hospitalized. They need rehab,” Baldwin said, referring to inmates with addictions to drugs and mental health conditions. “They don’t need to be thrown in a cell and just treated like dirt.”
The protest came less than a week after Luzerne County Council members unanimously approved a $780,000 settlement related to a similar death at the prison in 2018.
Court documents state that 21-year-old Hailey Povisil died by suicide three days after she was incarcerated at LCCF in 2018. The plaintiffs argued that Povisil experienced withdrawal symptoms from an addiction to opioids and staff did not take her mental distress seriously.
The settlement is the result of a lawsuit filed against Luzerne County and Tennessee-based healthcare company Wellpath LLC, formerly known as Correct Care Solutions. At the March 28 council meeting, one woman questioned why the county still had a contract with the company.
“How long are we going to keep them in control of the jail and the nursing staff?” said Elizabeth Hartman of Hanover Township. Luzerne County most recently signed a contract with Wellpath in 2020.
LCCF did not immediately return a message for clarity on prison intake policies.
Ryan Hogan, director of Luzerne/Wyoming Department of Drug and Alcohol, said while his office works with LCCF, the prison has its own drug treatment coordinator and counselors.
Wilkes-Barre law firm Dyller and Solomon has represented several families in cases involving deaths at the county prison, including Povisil’s. Attorneys said suicides at the prison are part of a systemic problem.
Attorney Barry Dyller said his firm’s goal is “to shine a spotlight on these failings at the jail.” Alaimo’s death is one of at least five suicides at LCCF since 2021, said attorney Theron Solomon.
The Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office investigates each death in the prison. It is unclear how many LCCF deaths are currently under investigation; the office did not return a message seeking comment.
More transparency from LCCF could soon be on the table, according to Luzerne County Council member Lee Ann McDermott. Though Luzerne has not had a formal prison board for over a decade, McDermott said she would like the council to discuss the topic this spring. County prison boards oversee prison operations.
Commissioners in Luzerne used to serve on a prison board. But the prison oversight process became more opaque, she said, when a change was made to the county’s governing structure, which replaced a board of commissioners with 11 council members.
Meanwhile, Alaimo’s family and other advocates say they will keep pushing the county to address their concerns.
“We demand change because this cannot happen to anybody else,” Baldwin said. “Our family has suffered something terrible and I don’t want to see that happen to anybody else’s family due to mistreatment.”