Grand jurors then spent considerable time in the Medical Room discussing the myriad medical and mental health issues that the jail staff is required to address. There is one psychiatric nurse practitioner on duty full time and on-call 24/7; one mental health specialist on duty full-time and a physician that comes to the jail once a week. Additionally, there are five registered nurses on staff. The major health issues are related to drug and alcohol abuse.
Mental health issues unrelated to substance abuse are also a major concern for medical staff at the jail. Staff emphasized to grand jurors the need for substance abuse prevention and treatment options in our community outside the criminal justice system, citing a walk-in Detox/Mental Health Assessment Center as an example of a community-based facility that would relieve some of the resource pressure on the jail. The grand jurors were concerned about the lack of physical space given the high demand for mental health and medical treatment.
The jail staff then showed grand jurors the visiting areas where family members and attorneys meet with inmates. Video technology is used and is being increased to facilitate the need for inmate access to legal counsel because physical space for visitation is limited. There are three “attorney rooms” which are also used by Department of Human Services workers, chaplains and Parole and Probation officers. Grand jurors were impressed with how efficiently the limited physical space for visitation was utilized.
The grand jurors inspected the Work Center and learned that there are usually 20-30 inmates housed in the center at any one time. No female inmates reside in the work center but female inmates are eligible for work crew. The grand jurors learned that the last escape from the work center was over nine years ago and that there were no escape attempts during 2011. Sergeant Lutz led the tour of the work center and answered grand juror questions about the type of work that inmates perform. He explained that the work crews are the primary caretaker of the horse rescue ranch (HART) and that funds generated from work crew services go into the County’s General Fund. Inmates must be low-risk and have no disciplinary problems to qualify for work crew. Inmates can earn one day off of their sentence for every ten hours of labor they perform.
The Work Center is increasingly being used to avoid overcrowding at the jail. This presented some concern to grand jurors because the work center was not designed to be a holding facility for medium and high risk inmates.
Juvenile Detention Center
Program Manager Chuck Puck and Supervisor Shawn Nielsen led the inspection of the Juvenile Detention Center. Grand jurors learned that the center houses juveniles between 12 and 17 years of age; that the average age is 14; and that the average total population is around 15. Juveniles attend school five and half days a week while in detention and school is always in session. Volunteers from the community come in to teach art, music, religion and health safety.
Security at the facility was excellent with interlocking doors and video monitoring in all areas of the facility. Similar to the jail, doors and video cameras are controlled by staff members in a central “control room”.
There are two full-time certified teachers and the county contracts with COIC for special education needs. All juveniles are out of their rooms between 13-16 hours a day involved in either school or other program activities with the philosophy referred to as “saturation” being employed. There are two gyms available for the youth where they may play basketball, volleyball and kickball. There is also a fenced, outdoor recreation area.
Grand Jurors Observations:
1. The physical condition of all correctional facilities was excellent. Each facility was clean and well-maintained. The physical security at each facility was very good.
2. Correctional staff at each facility present as well-trained and professional public servants who are committed to providing the highest quality service possible in a cost-effective manner. Grand jurors were particularly impressed with how jail staff manages to perform their duties given physical space limitations.
3. Programs within the jail like the substance abuse treatment/prevention program called Restart are functioning very well. Because 80-85% of all felony offenses are drug-related jail programs like Restart, along with specialty court programs like Family Drug Court and Mental Health Court, should be expanded. The specialty court programs are based upon sound scientific research, appear to be cost-effective and reduce recidivism.
4. Inmates with mental health issues are a special concern for the courts and jail staff because they occupy space and consume public safety resources needed for inmates who are at greater risk of committing serious crimes and because the jail does not have the financial resources or physical space required to operate as a mental health facility. Jail staff and medical and mental health professionals who provide services to inmates are providing an extraordinary level of service under the circumstances. Grand jurors were concerned that because community-based resources for those with mental health problems are lacking, the jail is being used as a de facto mental health facility.
5. The Juvenile Detention Center is woefully under-utilized. The center has the capacity to house 90 youth; only eight were in detention at the time of the inspection.
Grand Jury Recommendations:
1. The Grand Jury believes that public safety requires the County to place a high priority on expanding the current capacity of the jail. Jail staff appear to be operating the facility as efficiently as possible. However, due to the number of inmates requiring mental health and medical treatment, the need to segregate male and female inmates, co-defendants and inmates that represent a special risk to correctional staff or other inmates, the jail is operating beyond capacity. This has required the Sheriff to rent jail beds from Jefferson County and to use the Work Center to relieve overcrowding in the jail. Short-term measures such as these are costly and ineffective alternatives to expanding jail capacity.
2. The Grand Jury recommends that the Work Center be used for work crew eligible inmates and not to control overcrowding in the jail. The Grand Jury was extremely supportive of the work crew concept and disappointed to learn that legal restrictions prevent inmates who are being held pre-trial from being eligible for work crew. The Grand Jury recommends that the County explore ways to increase the number of inmates providing work crew services for county and other governmental agencies.
3. The Grand Jury recommends that the surveillance and monitoring equipment inside the jail be upgraded to enhance security and facilitate more efficient use of the limited physical space available for attorney-inmate communications. Not infrequently defense attorneys must request postponement of an inmate’s court case because they were not able to have a face-to-face conversation with their client at the jail. Approximately 75% of inmates are being held pre-trial or pre-adjudication and any measure that facilitates prompt and effective communication between the inmate and his or her attorney may reduce the length of time the inmate is held in jail prior to the resolution of his or her case. Providing video access as an alternative to in person visitation may help reduce the number of pretrial inmates.
4. The Grand Jury recommends that inmate educational and substance abuse treatment programs should be expanded because they have proven effective in assisting inmates to re-enter the community after a period of incarceration and such programs reduce recidivism. The Grand Jury also strongly recommends that the current specialty or “problem-solving” courts be expanded and the County support creation of a Veteran’s Court. The specialty courts enhance public safety, community well-being and are cost-effective means for reducing jail over-crowding.
The Grand Jury endorses this report:
Grand Jury Foreman