After the hanging death of Sandra Bland and other Texas jail suicides, the state agency that oversees jails is issuing a new inmate intake form so jailers will ask more specific, direct questions when booking people, reports the Texas Tribune. Bland was found dead on July 13; an autopsy concluded she committed suicide. On one of two intake forms at the Waller County Jail, Bland indicated that she had suicidal thoughts. The screening form gauges the risk of inmate suicide and helps identify medical and mental impairments. The jail’s failure to monitor her as a suicide risk drew ire from activists and prompted lawmakers to seek improvements in jail screening. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards is changing the intake form and expects the new ones to be in use by December. The previous form asked inmates to self-report medical problems, mental health histories or intellectual disabilities and indicate if they felt depressed or suicidal. The new form uses multiple questions to try to elicit the same information, and gives jailers lengthier instructions responding to inmate answers.
For instance, to indicate if military veterans in custody might have mental health issues, the form replaces the question “Do you have any previous military service?” with “Do you have nightmares, flashbacks or repeated thoughts or feelings related to PTSD or something terrible from your past?” If an inmate answers yes to any of the questions, the employee filling out the form is instructed to notify their supervisor, a magistrate and a mental health official immediately. The directions had unclear to county jails. The revisions are a step in the right direction, but “one of the things that needs to happen, though, to really make it effective is better coordination between the jails and the local mental health authorities or some mental health provider,” said Kate Murphy of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.