New protocols created to prevent inmate suicide - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

New protocols created to prevent inmate suicide

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Potter County officials are preparing for the Sandra Bland Act to go into effect.

While it's meant to save lives, there are some challenges they face while trying to enforce it.

Potter County Sheriff Brian Thomas said when people are admitted to jail, they are immediately screened for mental illnesses.

According to Thomas, every inmate is presented with a form that questions their mental state. If somebody appears to have mental issues, they are taken aside and go before a counselor.

Potter County Jail Administrator Lisa Dawson says they have a mental health officer on hand as well to evaluate inmates.

"We try to get that officer involved to try to get more in depth information," said Dawson. "And then once that is determined, then we have sources to where we have a doctor, psychiatrist that can talk to them and maybe prescribe medication if that is what is needed."

The Potter County Sheriff's Office says a woman in their custody attempted to commit suicide this week, but Thomas said the Sandra Bland Act would not have prevented it.

"She hadn't even made it that far," said Thomas.

He said the inmate was arrested immediately out of court, and was taken to court holding to be taken to the jail to be processed.

Because she hadn't made it to jail yet, they were unable to put her through the mental health screening process.

The law ensures county jails divert people with mental health and substance abuse issues toward treatment, makes it easier for defendants to receive a personal bond if they have a mental illness and requires that independent law enforcement agencies investigate jail deaths. 

Thomas said they already comply with those standards, but the more substantial changes will occur during traffic stops.

"We're gonna have to do a lot more training with our officers as far as the crisis intervention," said Thomas. "And that's something that our guys are gonna learn, you know to 'hey don't automatically handcuff them and take them to jail,' that's not the place."

While they would like to get inmates the treatment they need, Dawson said they combat a lack of resources at state hospitals.

"What we've been told is there used to be 16,000 beds for mental health and there is only like 3,000 now."

Thomas echoed that statement, saying it's going to be difficult to immediately implement the changes.

"So not only are we trying to comply with what's come down, now we're trying to figure out how we're going to comply, because we can't even get them the help that they need," said Thomas.

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