The door of the jail slammed shut yesterday afternoon behind a group of about a dozen reporters.
New jail commander Captain Scott Jones led them through virtually the entire building, from the booking area to the block where the most dangerous inmates are housed:
Basic cell will have two bunks, it’s got a stainless steel metal table, stainless steel combo sink slash toilet…..
Jones was open about the modifications that had been made to the cell to prevent inmates from finding ways to commit suicide. That included sealing up a drain hole on the top bunk:
They were using that, tying a knot on the top, so that would give them capacity to hang.
Community groups and county officials were up in arms after the jail had a spike in suicides in 2003 – seven deaths that year.
Officers now undergo quarterly suicide prevention training.
And Jones says jail officials have taken other, simple, measures:
Then we looked at some of the other issues, such as inmates were using socks to tie off to make a rope, so we changed their calf high socks for ankle socks. Minor stuff, but someone’s paying attention, someone’s looking at these things.
Someone else is paying attention as well -- members of citizen watchdog groups, like the Justice Reform Coalition. While there have been no suicides at the jail in the past year, coalition members point out, officials admit there have been six suicide attempts in just the past two months.
The Reverand Ashiya Odeya is leader of the Coalition. He says members met with jail officials a few weeks ago, and pressed them on issues like suicide:
They were more forthcoming at that meeting than I think they thought they were going to be, because we pretty much pushed a lot of points with them.
The willingness of jail officials to publicize the suicide attempts is something new.
And officials are hoping to be more open with the community in the future. They’re hiring an ombudsman, whom they hope to have on the job within a month.