By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Sheriff Greg Szudera said he sees no way that two suicide attempts that occurred within one week at the Hill County Detention Center could have been prevented.
The same problem exists in society, he said: "How do we see it coming?"
"The ones that are the easy ones are the ones that say something," Undersheriff Don Brostrom said.
Szudera complimented his staff for acting quickly in both cases.
"I think you've really got to pat the staff on the back" for their quick responses, Brostrom said.
On Nov. 30, Oscar Jaimes, 21, of Havre cut his wrists with a razor blade taken from a shaver, Brostrom said. Jaimes' cellmate used an in-cell intercom to alert detention officers shortly after it occurred. Each cell is equipped with an intercom that can be used in an emergency, Brostrom said.
Jaimes was immediately taken to Northern Montana Hospital, treated for superficial wounds, and released within an hour, the undersheriff said.
Jaimes was listed at a medium level of risk of suicide by a screening process that staffers conduct during booking, Brostrom said.
People who score 0-7 have a low risk under the screening. Medium risk is 8-12, and high is 13-20. People who score over 20 get a "very high" rating.
In general, increased supervision is given only to those who are in the higher numbers of the medium range, Brostrom said. Jaimes had an 8.
Jaimes is in jail awaiting trial on charges of possession of dangerous drugs, possession with intent to distribute, possession of drug paraphernalia and failure to appear.
After Jaimes was released from the hospital, the Sheriff's Office brought in consultants from Golden Triangle Community Mental Health Center to speak with Jaimes. Initially, Jaimes was put on suicide watch in a padded cell, Brostrom said. Over time, after consultation with Jaimes, his supervision was lowered. He still is watched more closely than the general inmate population.
Inmates in their cells are normally checked every 30 minutes.
On Dec. 3, Shawna Hansen, 21, of Chinook used a sheet to try to hang herself. She was discovered by staff during a routine check, cut down and taken to Northern Montana Hospital. Hansen was not seriously injured and was also released from the hospital in less than an hour, Brostrom said.
She was placed in a padded cell after the attempt, he said. She then was transferred to a state prison for women Dec. 7.
Hansen had been sentenced, and was awaiting transfer to prison when she attempted suicide, Brostrom said. Hansen told the detention administrator that frustration about waiting to be transferred had led to her attempt, the undersheriff said.
Brostrom said time served in the county jail counts toward the prisoner's sentence, but good behavior credit can't be accumulated in a jail. He said many are anxious to get to prison, where there are sometimes fewer restrictions and a chance to accumulate a good record.
During booking, Hansen was assessed at a low risk level for suicide, Brostrom said.
The suicide of a prisoner who died a few days after he tried to hang himself in the jail in May illustrated the difficulty detention staffers have in predicting suicidal behavior, Brostrom said. The man had been laughing and sociable one moment and was thought to be at a low risk for a suicide attempt. Then he read a letter, went up to his cell, and hung himself with a sheet.
Detention officers thought he was going to use the bathroom, Brostrom said. After a few minutes he was discovered and taken to the hospital but died days later.
Hill County Detention Center staffers use a computer program to assess suicide risk. Most inmates are observed every 30 minutes, but a higher-risk inmate might be observed every 15 minutes, or even constantly, Brostrom said. There is a padded cell available for the highest-risk inmates.
The screening program developed by Information Management Corp. is sold to jails across the country, Szudera said. During booking, staffers lead the individual through a series of questions regarding his or her medical history and mental state.
The questionnaire includes observations by the staff: Is the inmate sad, tired, confused, crying or irritable? Is he giving away property? Is the person intoxicated? Does he make unrealistic comments? Is the person wringing his hands or pacing?
Next the prisoner is asked about recent deaths in the family, or if the person has attempted or threatened suicide in the past. Is the person seeking psychiatric care? The screener checks the state computer for past suicide threats or attempts, and asks, "Do you feel like killing yourself now?" If the person answers yes, he is asked if he has a plan. A realistic plan is taken more seriously than an unrealistic one.
Each set of questions answered positively leads to a higher level of risk that corresponds to increased observation.
Szudera said part of the state's training of detention officers includes watching inmate behavior for signs of suicide risk.
Brostrom said a person who is at a low risk when booked can be at high risk 10 or 30 days later. He said the important thing over time is that detention officers interact with inmates. He said inmates often speak up for one another and alert staff if another person is behaving differently.