Staff at Smith County Jail and others across East Texas saw their training put to the test when an inmate at the jail attempted to hang himself on the same day representatives from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards were in town teaching staff about suicide prevention.
The 34-year-old male inmate from Lindale was rushed to the hospital about 7 p.m. Tuesday night and remained in a Tyler hospital Wednesday, where he was upgraded to stable condition, while jail staff continued their two-day training at the jail.
Smith said an investigation into the incident so far has revealed the man hanged himself using a T-shirt, not with a towel as staff first believed. The man was found by jailers about 7 p.m. Tuesday during a routine check, which are required by the the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to be conducted every 30 minutes, regardless of the inmate's mental state.
The jail was cited for failing to make a cell check on time for a 24-year-old man who was found hanging in his cell May 16, 2015.
Here's a bit more detail regarding circumstances surrounding the latest incident:
[Sheriff Larry] Smith said the inmate was being held in a separation cell located in the original portion of the jail, because jailers felt he could be a danger to others, Smith said. Medical personnel had seen the inmate at 3 p.m. Tuesday and did not believe him to be suicidal. The inmate had been in the separation cell for about two days.That last line makes me wonder if inmates deemed suicidal are routinely stripped naked in their cells? If inmates "not on suicide watch are allowed to have personal items ... such as clothing," that implies suicidal ones don't get clothes. I understand wanting to limit their means of harming themselves, but that's also a pretty big incentive to lie about one's mental health condition if admitting it will get you stripped naked and stuck in an isolation cell.
Currently, jailers check inmates who are on suicidal watch every 10 minutes, unless they are deemed at immediate risk. Inmates who are actively attempting to harm themselves are placed on constant watch, with a jailer monitoring them at all times.
“If an inmate claims to be suicidal, they have to do specific things, such as notify the magistrate, their supervisor and medical staff,” TCJS Executive Director Brandon Wood said. “We encourage them to be as proactive as possible.”
Inmates not on suicide watch are allowed to have personal items in cells, such as clothing and hygiene items.
To his credit, this episode and the one last year that got them cited by TCJS have Sheriff Smith thinking about the issue in a more proactive fashion:
Smith said he wants to go beyond jail standards and put more safeguards in place.Grits tends to credit the Sandra Bland tragedy last year with a heightened focus on suicide prevention in Texas jails. Jailers are more likely now to be held accountable when something goes wrong, especially when they cover it up. And that in turn pressures administrators like Smith to take prevention much more seriously.
During the jail’s January inspection, the sheriff’s office asked TCJS to return to host this week's training classes on suicide prevention. The instructor taught the class for four groups of law enforcement personnel from around East Texas on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"That’s part of addressing the issue. … We’re doing everything we can do," Smith said of the training. "I’ve already given (staff) ... an assignment to think outside the box. What can we do that’s not being done anywhere else to get out in front of all possibilities and to limit suicide as much as we can?," Smith said. "Forget about what the jail commission requires us to do with minimum standards, what else can we do to do that?”