Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Prison nation: A Jail Increased Extreme Isolation to Stop Suicides. More People Killed Themselves.

leave a comment »

Jason PohlThe Sacramento Bee, and Ryan Gabrielson, ProPublica, report:

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Shackled at the wrists and ankles, Christine Taylor followed a red line on the basement floor directing her to the elevator at Kern County’s central jail. She heard groans and cries from among the hundred people locked above, a wail echoing through the shaft.

It was minutes before daybreak on a Monday morning in May 2017 as the elevator lifted her toward the voices. Jail staff had assigned Taylor to something called “suicide watch,” a block of single cells where she’d be alone 24 hours a day. The sound of other people would soon become a luxury.

What a stupid mistake, Taylor fumed.

Earlier, she had argued with jail staff during her booking at the downtown jail. Have you ever attempted suicide, a deputy asked. Taylor glared back, her hands trembling. She had never been in serious trouble with law enforcement, and she considered her arrest that night a gross misunderstanding.

“Do you think I’m going to try to kill myself with my shirt?” Taylor responded, flippantly. “Maybe.”

Her answer got her a glimpse of how the jail handles people it perceives as suicide risks.

Within minutes, deputies moved Taylor into a changing room on the third floor and had her strip naked. They handed her just two items: paper-thin clothes that come apart under pressure and a blue yoga mat.

Exhausted and scared, she followed orders, walked down a hall and stepped into a bathroom-sized isolation cell. The door slammed behind her. The floors felt colder inside, and a mold smell came up from the toilet-sink fixture. A bed was mounted to the brick wall. Hazy fluorescent lights reflected off the ash-white paint. And, as Taylor soon learned, jail staff never turned them off.

To shield herself, she crawled under the bed and put the yoga mat over her torso like a blanket.

She pressed her eyelids shut but couldn’t block the glare or the rush of tears.

“Cruel and Unusual” Punishment; No Limits

Each year, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office sends hundreds of people into this kind of suicide watch isolation. Inmates awaiting trial spend weeks and sometimes months in solitary, according to state and county records. When those cells fill up, deputies place people into “overflow” areas, rooms with nothing more than four rubberized walls and a grate in the floor for bodily fluids. They receive no mental health treatment, only a yoga mat to rest on.

Kern County sheriff’s officials say they turned to isolation rooms to help prevent deaths after a spate of jail suicides that started in 2011.

This wasn’t what state lawmakers envisioned when they undertook a sweeping criminal justice overhaul nearly a decade ago to alleviate what the U.S. Supreme Court deemed the “cruel and unusual” conditions for people in overcrowded state prisons. Those prisoners, the court found, would languish for months, even years, in “telephone-booth-sized cages” without treatment, resulting in “needless suffering and death.”

California’s reforms, dubbed “realignment,” diverted thousands of offenders to county jails so, among other things, the corrections system could see to basic health needs and meet minimum constitutional requirements. That shift also transferred billions of dollars to local sheriffs to better run jails.

Some, like Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, have rejected warnings from the state to improve the outdated and often brutal forms of isolation that helped trigger the state’s prison crisis.

The state can’t do much about it, a McClatchy and ProPublica investigation found. The California Board of State and Community Corrections, which is supposed to maintain minimum jail standards and inspect local facilities, has no legal authority to force local lockups to meet those standards or ensure inmates are physically safe and mentally sound.

Last year, for instance, a state board inspector called out the Kern County Sheriff’s Office for 27 violations, a majority of them for using yoga mats instead of mattresses in suicide watch cells. But his letter read more like an invitation than a warning. “If you choose to address the noncompliant issues,” he wrote, “please provide your corrective plan to the BSCC for documentation in your inspection file.”

The sheriff’s office disregarded the findings and bought more than 100 additional mats this year, agency records show.

“It’s completely unethical, and counter to clinical evidence for what people need,” Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer of New York City jails, said of Kern County’s suicide watch. “For any human, that represents punishment and humiliation.”

Isolation practices save lives, Kern County officials argue. But records show the strategy didn’t work; inmates continued to kill themselves.

In one case, an inmate hanged himself in a suicide watch cell, after grabbing an extension cord that guards left within reach. Since 2011, 11 others have taken their lives in other parts of the jail. During the past four years, Kern County had the highest suicide rate of the state’s 10 largest jail systems, with 5.61 deaths per 100,000 bookings, close to twice the statewide rate, an analysis by ProPublica and McClatchy found. Overall, inmate suicides declined slightly in California county jails over that period.

The state’s board has no authority to investigate deaths in local lockups. The agency answers to the Legislature, which has not held a single hearing about jail inspections or the dozens of gruesome deaths in facilities across the state in the past eight years.

Texas and New Jersey, meanwhile, have boards that regularly examine such deaths. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 November 2019 at 9:01 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.