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Council OKs purchase of 5,000 ‘suicide blankets’ for Pa. correctional facility

Purchase comes after a couple of deaths occurred at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility earlier this year

By Kathleen E. Carey
Daily Times, Primos, Pa.

THORNTON, Pa. — Delaware County Council unanimously approved the purchase of 5,000 so-called suicide blankets for the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, following some fatal incidents earlier this year.

Council members agreed to pay Bob Barker Co. $348,900 for an initial 500 blankets, and another shipment of 5,000 to the county prison.

In June, Warden Laura K. Williams notified the Delaware County Jail Oversight Board that she wanted to replace the sheets throughout the entire institution with suicide prevention blankets.

The cost for the 5,000 Lifeline blanket was $62 each for a total of $310,000. The initial 500 cost $77.80 each for a sum of $38,900.

Each blanket measures 54 inches by 80 inches and is made of a special polyester fabric.

“The construction of the blanket is reinforced so that it cannot be tampered with or manipulated,” the warden said. “It is a safety measure within the facility.”

She said the industry faces various challenges in caring for inmates.

“Many correctional agencies nationwide are struggling with not being able to implement environmental changes that would allow for the protective custody of individuals while incarcerated,” Williams said.

However, she noted that this purchase of these blankets is only one way to deal with this need and challenge.

“This is a measure that we were able to take swiftly without an enormous cost and change to the physical plant but did change the physical environment and the act of the means or the mechanism that could be utilized for self-harm or harm to another,” she said.

Why buy?

This purchase comes after a couple of deaths occurred at the prison earlier this year.

On April 22, 54-year-old Elliott Funkhouser from Rosemont, was found strangled in his cell. He was being held on felony charges of burglary and was sent to the prison after being unable to post 10 percent of the $50,000 bail.

A post-mortem medical examination later determined the cause of death was homicide by ligature strangulation

Funkhouser’s 25-year-old cellmate Shad M. Boccella of Bridgeport, Pa., was charged with criminal homicide and murder in the first and third degree.

Corrections officers found Funkhouser face down on the bottom bunk wrapped very tightly in a sheets and blankets, including his face. A prison nurse saw a noose-shaped sheet on Funkhouser’s chest but not around his neck.

Bocella also allegedly told investigators that he had to defend himself and choked Funkhouser, holding his arms up in front of his face in a manner consistent with using a ligature to strangle someone from behind.

Boccella had been charged with receiving stolen property, access device fraud, theft, identity theft and false identification to law enforcement in February, according to online court records. His attorney, Jason R. Young, had filed a motion for a competency evaluation Mar. 21, which was granted by Common Pleas Court Judge Margaret Amoroso March 25, records show.

Funkhouser was not the only death at the prison this year.

On March 29, an unidentified 36-year-old male inmate was pronounced dead after onsite medical staff initiated life-saving measures while notifying 911.

On Feb. 25, Francis Dellorefice, 41, was found hanging in his cell. He was transported to a local hospital but died a few days later after being taken off a ventilator by family members.

According to court records, Dellorefice had been at the prison after being charged with terroristic threats and harassment.

Since April, Delaware County has overseen the management of the George W. Hill Correctional Facility.

On April 6, the management returned to county hands after a 24-year hiatus. In that time, it had been operated by Wackenhut Corrections Corp. and most recently, by the GEO Group Inc. At the time of the transfer, there were approximately 1,400 inmates at the prison.

Rebecca Hillman faces up to four years in prison after a jury convicted her of denying help to an inmate who hanged himself in a cell
Capt. Rebecca Hillman has pleaded not guilty to criminally negligent homicide and offering a false instrument for lying on an incident report