State Rep. Lee Perry

Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, speaks on the House floor at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 7, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — After seeing the state’s first annual report on deaths in county jails, several officials who work in the system said suicide prevention behind bars should be a focus for legislative consideration.

The report, unveiled last week, showed 38 of 71 reported jails deaths from 2013 through 2017 were suicides, and that 31 deaths occurred within the first seven days behind bars.

“I know there are great models out there in different counties that have great medical staff who are responsive to this crisis mode that occurs when inmates come into their county jails,” said Kim Cordova, director of the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, which compiled the report.

She told the Legislature’s Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee on Wednesday that the “striking” trend of first-week suicides points to a need to find best practices for handling inmates in distress.

Two committee members work inside the justice system. They echoed Cordova’s emphasis on the suicide issue.

“I know jails that go to the nth degree to try and prevent someone from committing suicide,” said committee co-chairman Rep. Lee Perry, who is a Utah Highway Patrol lieutenant in Box Elder County. “But if somebody is determined to (attempt suicide), I’d like to make sure that we can kind of distinguish those out.”

He said he hoped future reports would identify suicides in which a jail “did everything but put them in a paper suit, and yet the guy manages to get up on the toilet and do a header.”

Perry added and said, “What are we going to do, take bathrooms out?”

The CCJJ and lawmakers are looking at the jails after a record 27 reported deaths occurred in 2016. Many were suicides, and several were suffered by inmates withdrawing from opiates. Various officials have said some of the suicides may have been from people undergoing substance withdrawals.

“I think there are people out there who are just determined to do terrible things and we certainly don’t want to be telling our sheriffs and our jail commanders that they’re doing a poor job, because I think they’re doing an excellent job,” Perry said.

He said jails are working to prevent suicides “at a high level, the very best level they can,” but that the new state data will help the counties build on their successes.

Two Cache County officials urged the committee not to lump all counties together in its examinations of jail deaths.

“We should look for policies and procedures and interventions, not necessarily on a statewide basis, but go county by county,” said Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan, who also is the contract medical director for the Cache County Jail.

+1 
State Rep. Edward Redd, medical director for the Cache County Jail

Rep. Edward Redd and Rep. Dana Layton listen to speakers at a meeting in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 in Salt lake City. Redd is also the contract medical director for the Cache County Jail.

Redd said because the report showed more than half of the jail deaths happened during the 14 days of incarceration, “they make me want to do more to help people during those first two weeks that they’re in jail.”

Cache County Sheriff Chad Jensen told lawmakers that county jails realize many new inmates are troubled “because of things they’re coming off of and the attention they haven’t received before coming into jail.”

He said jails are “a little bit confusing” and all Utah jails are different. His jail, for instance, houses local inmates plus people from Franklin County, Idaho, and people being held for federal immigration agents.

“I just think jails are complicated places, so it’s not so easy to say” general solutions could be available, Jensen said.

The interim committee took no action on the report. So far there are no jail bills on tap for the 2019 legislative session.

(3) comments

cynthia

After reading this article and a quite a few others. I am coming with options and solutions. SB 205 is a bill that should enforce policies and procedures that should have been written prior to this first year. Why is it that this is so hard to do? My daughter died in the Davis County jail because of biased medical staff that had no critical thinking skills or emergent policies and procedures. My daughter should be alive getting ready for the holidays with our family, she isn't. For the very reason that no one knows what to do or how to do it. How can you be professionals and not know what to do? I am a mother who doesn't want another, parent, sister, brother, child or friend have to ask the question how and why did this happen to a person I Love!!! Be prepared to answer these questions and held accountable. Take responsibility for what happens in your facilities. Prepare your policies and procedures for your institutions as you've been asked to do. The Sheriff's Should Have Had These Available, tired of excuses, looking for accountability! Justice for Heather Ashton Miller and for those who have died before and after her. Let's be the solution!

DeathInstitute

Focusing on suicide prevention policies and procedures is not the answer. Countless states and countless jurisdictions have attempted the same focus and failed miserably. The problem of suicides transcends far beyond a policy and a procedure of just "one player." We've seen no meaningful dialogue that actually addresses the issues taking place in the state of Utah.

cynthia

By attending this meeting I found that there a few concerns:
I don't know if you are part of this or not, but this is what I found to be disturbing, "Excuses, without solution. " looking at what the CCJJ came up with as far as statistics was alarming and questionable. Suicide is the #1 cause of death followed by illness, other/unknown, alcohol/drug intoxication and the accident aka my daughter. I believe that Suicide and intoxication go hand in hand due to mental illness. Now, the problem is an inept staff generally arresting officer, intake and medical due to lack of not only policies and procedures but training and the there is biased. My solution is to establish The NCCHC guidelines, take questionable arrests to Hospital for testing evaluation. If already there in jail and notice unusual behavior, when in doubt ship them out to the hospital. Person falls from bunk monitor by vitals every 15 minutes for an hour if you question their condition it will let you know if there is something serious, look at their pupils, check their memory, many different scenarios. I understand that the counties each manage and fund their facilities, the state should step in and mandate policies and procedures and punishment for those not following them.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.