Small steps

After Sandra Bland death, Texas jails revise intake forms

A woman holds a poster bearing the portrait of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman who killed herself in a Texas jail cell on July 13th, 2015. ( KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

This week the Texas agency responsible for the oversight of jails in the state announced that it will change its inmate intake form to ensure that jailers ask more specific, direct questions to those they book. The change comes after the July death of Sandra Bland, who died in her jail cell after being detained during a traffic stop. On one intake form at the Waller County Jail, Bland noted that she had suicidal thoughts, but she was not monitored or kept on suicide watch. The confusion, activists believe, was a contributing factor to her death, which was suicide, according to an autopsy (though friends and family have contested that Bland was not suicidal.)

The form, expected to be in use by December, expands on pre-existing questions about medical problems, mental health histories, and feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts. State Rep. Garnet Coleman called the new paperwork “clear guidance for front-line staffers,” adding, “There’s no ambiguity in these questions.” For example, instead if they have a history of military service, veterans in custody will now be asked, “Do you have nightmares, flashbacks or repeated thoughts or feelings related to PTSD or something terrible from your past?” If the detainee answers yes to any of the questions, the employee filling out the form will notify a supervisor, magistrate and a mental health officer — directions that were previously unclear.

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards worked with the Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical or Mental Impairments and The Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute for Texas on the revised form. It’s one step toward improvement, according to Kate E. Murphy of the Center for Health Care Policy at the Texas Public Foundation. “There needs to be better education and a little bit more coordination to make sure that what happens with the screening actually makes a difference down the line,” she said.

Read the full story at The Texas Tribune.

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