The Cowley County Jail has strengthened its intake processes since two inmates died at the jail in less than two months late last year, Sheriff Dave Falletti said recently.
Those changes include red “alert” signs and sign-in sheets placed on holding cells.
Falletti and jail administrator Janet Gardner discussed the deaths and jail procedures in recent weeks in response to questions from the CourierTraveler.
Jason Porter, 48, of Arkansas City, died Oct. 19 after falling from a staircase railing in one of the general population pods. His death was ruled a suicide.
Falletti said Porter was not considered at risk for suicide before his death, and had not told corrections officers about any mental health issues or suicidal thoughts. Porter had been booked into the jail on a bond violation.
Local authorities are still waiting for an autopsy report for the second inmate, Jesse Crable, 33, of Winfield, who died Nov. 29 after being found unresponsive in a holding cell. Falletti said the death was likely due to natural causes. Crable was being held on warrants out of Winfield and Sedgwick County.
Both deaths were investigated by the sheriff’s office and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Falletti said the families of both men were notified in person, by a sheriff’s deputy and a sheriff’s office chaplain.
Attempts to contact the families of Porter and Crable were unsuccessful.
Cowley County commissioner Wayne Wilt said neither he or the rest of the county commission has been contacted by family members with questions or concerns about jail procedures.
Falletti said he is not aware of any other deaths occurring at the current jail, which opened in 2008. He remembers investigating at least one death, a drug overdose, that happened to an inmate at the previous jail.
When asked about the jail leadership’s reaction to the deaths, Falletti said chaplains were also available to speak with inmates and staff who witnessed the incidents.
“It was traumatic for (inmates and staff) as well,” he said.
Staff also evaluated how things are conducted at the jail to determine if any improvements could be made.
During booking, new inmates are screened for medical and dental problems, communicable diseases, and behavior or conduct and mental health issues.
The screening form, in which Falletti provided a copy, includes questions about an inmate’s physical and mental health. Questions include whether the inmate is on any medications, if they are addicted to any substances, and whether or not they have ever received mental health services or had suicidal thoughts.
Inmates who pose a risk to themselves or others, or are suffering from injuries or serious medical issues, can have their entry delayed by the sheriff and taken to a local hospital to be cleared.
New inmates are initially placed in a holding cell while the booking process is completed.
One of the new processes implemented since the two deaths is to place a red “alert” sign on the holding cell door for people who might need extra supervision, so they are checked on more frequently. Corrections officers document every check.
Other new procedures include sign-in sheets on holding cell doors, and audible alarms so corrections officers don't forget to check the holding cells if things get busy.
Intoxicated inmates get their vitals checked every four hours, and the information is passed on to the jail nurse.
Once inmates are booked in, they are assigned to a pod with other inmates, labeled letters A through G. Corrections officers are assigned to check the pods every 60 minutes.
The jail has a full-time jail nurse, who is there from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, and three technicians to help to distribute medications. The pods each have a sick-call system, where inmates can request to be seen by the jail nurse.
Inmates who need more extensive medical care can be transported by jail staff to doctor’s appointments. The jail also has a contract with a doctor, who comes in once a week or for major health incidents.
A judge can also grant furloughs for inmates with health problems that require extended treatment. Furloughs are typically granted for low-risk inmates serving time for minor crimes, Falletti said.
An inmate who does not return from a furlough is considered an escapee, although Falletti said in most cases they return.
If an inmate who hasn’t been granted furlough is admitted to the hospital and has to stay for a time, they are guarded around the clock by a sheriff’s deputy or corrections officer.
Inmates who are ill or have other health issues while in jail can be placed in a medical isolation cell, away from the general jail population, where they can be monitored more closely.
The county has spent an average of $63,000 a year on inmate health care since 2014, which is submitted to the state as a Medicaid cost, Falletti said.
Mental health is a big issue in jails right now, Falletti said, although that could be because of increased awareness of these issues in inmates.
The Cowley County Jail has several measures in place to handle mental health issues in inmates.
Inmates who need regular meetings with a counselor are transported to Four County Mental Health for their care. Starting in January, inmates can also have a video conference with a Four County counselor.
If directed by Four County, the sheriff’s office will transport an inmate to the Larned State Hospital for further evaluation. In 99.8 percent of these cases, Falletti said, the inmate returns to the jail after a few days.