House committee discusses mental health protocol for inmates

House committee discusses mental health protocol for inmates

Sandra Bland's death is influencing law makers and county sheriffs to re-evaluate mental health protocols. 
The House County Affairs Committee discussed possible solutions to prevent jail suicides.

The Texas County Affairs Committee tossed around ideas to find out exactly what went wrong when Sandra Bland was locked up in Waller County.

"What could have been done differently, what could have been done better and is there laws that we ought to take a look at to improve the process for everyone," Lubbock Representative Dustin Burrows said.

A big factor, according to Lubbock County Sheriff Kelly Rowe, small jails have fewer resources.

"244 counties operate a jail, 75 percent of those are small to very small rural facilities," Sheriff Rowe said.

Waller County's jail is considered small, even though it's on the outskirts of Houston.  Regardless of size, if an inmate displays or indicates mental illness there are procedures for jailers to follow.

"If any of those risk factors are met than every jurisdiction has a responsibility to contact mental health or medical providers as well as notify the magistrate," Sheriff Rowe said.

"When Ms. Bland was checked in there was at least a form that shows she was interviewed and some red flags went up. When procedures are put in place, sometimes people aren't trained on them, they don't about them, sometimes people forget about them, sometimes people consciously ignore them," Burrows said.

There has been 140 suicides in Texas jails since 2009.  That's below the national average, according to the Sheriff.

He said Lubbock County's jail has an advantage, and its obvious as soon as an arrestee walks through the doors.

"There's a series of checks we go through so we're not just totally relying on the individual's responses," Sheriff Rower said. "If there's any question whatsoever, medical staff is called over they'll do an assessment if there's a reason we shouldn't accept them, they'll be turned around and sent to the hospital."

The statewide system is called "Continuty of Care" and it gives jail staffers a glimpse of the inmate's mental health history.

"It doesn't give us any detailed information but at least tell us if they've ever received any client services from the state and quite a few of the private mental health providers out there," Sheriff Rowe said. "Almost 60 percent of the population sitting out at the Lubbock County Detention Center has been identified as having received some level of services prior to arrival into the facility."

He said the majority of inmates with a mental health issues fall into three categories, bipolar, paranoid schizophrenia or significant depression.

"Over the past 12 months we've had individuals placed on close watches I think 437 times, we had 28 attempted suicides."

Lubbock County has in-house medical personnel to proactively prevent dangerous situations with mental health inmates.
Representative Burrows said he hopes to have another hearing before the end of the summer, to learn more details about what happened to Bland and prevent similar situations from occurring. 

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