An autopsy will be performed tomorrow on Kenneth Keith Kallenbach, a 39-year-old comedian who died Thursday after contracting pneumonia at the Delaware County jail, where he was awaiting trial.
Since 2005, at least eight people have died at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, the state's only privately run jail. Several of those deaths resulted in lawsuits by family members who say the facility did not provide adequate medical care or proper supervision for inmates.
Kallenbach suffered from cystic fibrosis, an inherited chronic disease. He had been housed at the jail since mid-March, when he was arrested on a charge of attempted child abduction. He was taken to Riddle Memorial Hospital April 21, where he died.
Kallenbach's mother, Fay, said her son called her a week before his death, asking her to intervene and help him receive better treatment. He said he didn't think he would "make it" in the jail, she said.
"He managed [his condition] perfectly well at home," she said. "He was only in there for about a month."
The prison had no comment on Kallenbach's death. GEO Group operates prisons around the country, and its operations in Texas have been sharply criticized over poor conditions and the treatment of some of its prisoners.
At the Delaware County facility last year, a woman who suffered from a thyroid condition died at the jail where she had been held for six weeks. Family members said she did not receive her medication during her incarceration.
"There is an awful lot of deliberate indifference to the medical needs" in the prison, said Harold I. Goodman, a lawyer currently suing the company that operates the jail on behalf of the woman's family.
GEO did not comment on this case.
In 2005, five inmates died within a five-month span, drawing scrutiny from Delaware County District Attorney Michael Green. Two men apparently committed suicide, one died after a fist fight, another died of a heroin overdose, and another man was found dead in his bed.
No criminal charges were filed, but GEO Group has settled lawsuits with several families who sued on behalf of their relatives. In 2006, GEO paid $100,000 to the family of Rosalyn Atkinson, 25, who died in 2002 because of a fatal overdose of a high-blood pressure drug administered by jail medical staff. Atkinson had been at the jail for only 18 days.
GEO also agreed in 2005 to pay $125,000 to the family of John Focht, 43, who used his boot strings to hang himself in 2002.
Jon Auritt, a Media lawyer who handled both cases,is reviewing another case of inmate death that occurred in October. David Dewees, who was in his 40s, died from what appeared to be a seizure from hypoglycemic shock, Auritt said. Dewees suffered from diabetes and had been at the jail only a few months at the time of his death, he said.
"They tried to save him once he went into this coma," Auritt said yesterday. "I don't know whether or not there was anything they did or could have done that could have changed things."
A private forensic pathologist is reviewing an autopsy of Dewees, and Auritt expects to determine by the end of the summer whether to pursue the matter in court.
Angus Love, executive director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, said the number of deaths in three years was exceptionally high.
"I'm suing Bucks County, and I don't think they've had any deaths in custody in five years," he said.
Love is suing the GEO Group on behalf of an AIDS-infected inmate who allegedly did not receive his medications for more than five months. He said a Delaware judge released the man from prison early, citing the prison's failure to provide needed medicine.
GEO, based in Florida, also has been under fire in Texas, where it operates more than a dozen correctional facilities.
Last fall, the Texas Youth Commission abruptly canceled its $8 million contract with GEO after investigators found unsanitary living conditions at its juvenile facility. Several of the teens said they were sexually assaulted by a guard who was a convicted sex offender, according to lawsuits.
GEO lost its contract at an adult facility in west Texas last year after an inspector reportedly characterized the prison as "the worst correctional facility I have ever visited." The inspection was sparked by an inmate's suicide.
Texas legislators have called for a review of all of GEO's contracts with state and local agencies.
GEO spokesman Pablo Paez did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.
The Delaware County Board of Prison Inspectors, a group of five people who oversee the contract with the jail and appoint the superintendent, agreed in May 2006 to renew GEO's contract for another 19 months. The board members are satisfied with GEO's performance, said Robert M. DiOrio, a Media lawyer who acts as spokesman for the board.
"The prison board is always concerned about inmate deaths and very much regrets any death in the prison," DiOrio said. "Just because a family member in a distraught state expresses culpability for a death doesn't necessarily mean at the end of the day that the prison board or GEO is found to be liable."
Fredric Hellman, Delaware County medical examiner, said Kallenbach's death initially did not raise any suspicions..
"The initial information I was provided with on Thursday indicated that his death was due to natural disease," he said.
But he decided to perform an autopsy on Kallenbach, who often appeared on Howard Stern's radio show, when Kallenbach's mother raised questions about her son's treatment in jail.