State Regulators Issue New Mental Health Screening Form For County Jails

Inmates who answer “yes” to certain questions are automatically flagged for suicide risk.


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Sandra Bland seen inside Waller County Jail during intake process.
A screengrab of Waller County video shows Sandra Bland right after she is taken into the jail.

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards has issued a new questionnaire designed to better flag inmates for suicide risk. The commission's executive director Brandon Wood says the form includes detailed questions about suicidal thoughts and mental health history.

"If a jailer or whoever is conducting the screening receives a positive or a "yes" response to the questions, it requires them to notify certain entities whether it be a magistrate, supervisor, medical or mental health," Wood says.

Wood says this is the first time the form has been fully revised since it was issued in 2000. Problems with the screening process came to light earlier this year after the in-custody death of Sandra Bland. She was arrested during a traffic stop in Prairie View and charged with assaulting a public servant. Medical examiners say she committed suicide in her cell at the Waller County Jail just three days later. On an intake questionnaire, a screener marked that Bland was not at risk of suicide, even though she disclosed a previous attempt.

Bland's family has filed a federal lawsuit against Waller County and state officials. Their attorney Cannon Lambert says a major concern is that the discrepancies in her booking documents were never followed up on.

"It is imperative that those that are rendering the oversight do everything they can to make sure they have a complete and full picture of the person that's been charged to their care," Lambert says.

Brandon Wood says with the new form, screeners will no longer be responsible with determining suicide risk since inmates will be flagged automatically.

"So it is hoped that it provides clarification and ensures that individuals that may possibly have a mental health issue are receiving the treatment that they need," he says.

County jails across the state are required to start using the new form by December 1. Wood says they can make changes to the questionnaire, as long as it meets screening requirements. He says Harris County has proposed its own form, which is pending review by the commission.

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