Inmate mental health a constant concern at the Davison County Jail
According to Davison County Corrections Administrator Don Radel, 83 inmates booked into the Davison County Jail through mid-October in 2017 have presented a mental health issue. Davison County Jail corrections officers screen inmates for mental health or self-harm issues as part of the initial booking process.
“It is something staff is constantly on the outlook for— as well as the inmates themselves,” Radel said. “Just because they came to jail without a mental health issue attached to their file does not mean something can not develop while they are here.”
Inmates with a history or symptoms of mental illness, including suicidal thoughts or behaviors, are monitored frequently by staff. Corrections officers check the four jail pods twice an hour but Radel said checks will increase to every 15 minutes or 24-hour supervision should an inmate require more attention.
Self-harm and attempted suicides do occur at the jail, but Radel said the staff takes precautions to remove objects or materials that can be used to self-harm. In 2016, there were 28 attempted suicides and five reports of self-harm incidents in the jail, according to Radel. And two deaths by suicide have occurred in the jail, the first in 1999 and the second in 2014.
According to Roswitha Konz, clinical director at Dakota Counseling Institute, several factors may cause an inmate to feel severely depressed or suicidal. Konz said substance use and withdrawal, individuals who feel hopelessness or fear of social exclusion may all lead to suicidal thoughts. The inmates themselves, however, can be useful in alerting jail staff to individuals that might need more attention.
“Cellmates are usually a very good source of information. They may report things like a person is isolating or not eating for several days,” Konz said. “And jail staff are excellent in picking up this information and asking for mental health consultation from Dakota Counseling.”
In addition to removing property that could be used for the purpose of self-harm, Radel said there are reports of inmates who attempt to misuse prescribed medications. Corrections officers are trained to check inmates’ mouths after medications are administered. Radel said some inmates will save medication in their mouths to take later or in a larger dose.
In some instances, corrections officers will physically restrain individuals who show signs of mental health issues that may lead to self-harm or suicide, Radel said. The use of a restraining chair, which forces a person to sit upright in a chair with a lap belt, has been used 15 times since January, according to Radel. Other methods of restraint include handcuffs or straitjackets.
As part of their training, corrections officers also take a four-hour module on suicide risk assessment and are offered a two-hour refresher class once a year. Correctional officers are trained to consult with counselors at Dakota Counseling if an inmate appears to be suicidal or at risk for harming themselves.
“The jail staff is incredibly compassionate toward the inmates,” Konz said. “… It is much better to err on the side of caution than to for whatever reason not take precautions.”