After the Webinar: In Custody Deaths: Beyond Case Closed. Q&A with Diana Knapp

Webinar presenter Diana Knapp answered a number of your questions after her webinar, In Custody Deaths: Beyond Case Closed. Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: Who investigates your agency’s DIC?

Diana Knapp:  We are still very much two separate divisions within the Sheriff’s office, so all in-custody deaths that come are investigated by sworn law enforcement personnel. It’s a completely separate investigation done by people who do not work in this jail. When the criminal investigation is complete, any possibility of criminal charges could result, when all of that is done, then our department turns that next level of the investigation over to our Office of Information Management. And in that unit, I’ve got Captain Christopher Wolf and Lieutenant Kiva Hill and they do an investigation into administrative policy violations. So, that part of the investigation is done by our seasoned experts on jail operations and procedures. It’s really a two-phase investigation. We haven’t had this yet, but I believe if there was any indication, at any point in time, in an in-custody death that staff misconduct contributes to that, that there would be a referral made to Highway Patrol, but that that’s not what we’ve had in our recent events. We do have a great team in-house with a lot of experience who looks at whether we did what we’re supposed to do, whether we did what our policy says we should do and where are our identified training needs?


Audience Question: What types of mental health training is provided to your correctional officers?

Diana Knapp:  Well, a couple of things. I don’t want to get into vendors, but I can tell you that our partnership with our contract mental health and medical provider gave us access to a series of trainings built just for us that are module based. So, they were there on-demand and accessible by our staff, which is really important. So, they can do training modules about mental health issues, medical emergencies, and things of that nature in 5- or 10-minute blocks, which is easy then for an entire operation to get trained on any subject. And for you, as an administrator, to have documentation of that training. The training is interactive. We also have our qualified mental health professionals here at the jail do a couple of different blocks of training in new staff orientation, and then our annual training that’s available to our staff. We also send our staff to national conferences. We go to the American Jail Association, the American Correctional Association, the National Council on Correctional Healthcare, National Institute for Jail Operations. We can send a couple of staff to those trainings and get access to that level of training, but also here in the Midwest. All of the states in this area have Regional Jail Summits. And that happens each summer, and the focus of those trainings is medical and mental health, and those trainings are at no cost to the agencies that attend. If you’re interested in more information about it, you can reach out to me. And then also clearly Justice Clearinghouse is another terrific resource for staff to be able to watch relevant training, interactive, engaging training at their availability from their desk.


Audience Question: It was mentioned that a good practice is to capture a video prior to and after an event. So, what timeframe on average, does Jackson County use when viewing the video?

Diana Knapp: Well, for something like a suicide, we’re going to look at the whole day before that, at least. Or anything else that might suggest something else. Maybe several days, depending upon, what we’re having to look at when checks were done, when mental health was in. We want to make sure that all of that’s documented. Many of you are working with video surveillance systems that automatically write over after a period of time, because of the storage, so you’re going to want to capture the footage when you’ve got a critical incident. Remember, if you go to court over it, you’re not going to be in court for 3 to 5 years. So, it will be too late usually, to go back and go, wait a minute, we should’ve looked at something from a couple of days earlier. So, just be comprehensive, it’s going to depend on the situation. If we’re looking at a fight, for example, we’re going to pull the video and look at the events leading up to that, the whole afternoon, and if necessary, or the whole day if necessary. It’s a good idea to grab that video initially because you don’t know what you might want to look at in the course of that, so it’s a judgment call.

But I would say err on the side of caution and pull more video than you think you need instead of less.


Audience Question: How does your facility track or conduct inmate observation rounds? 

Diana Knapp: If we’ve got individuals that are on suicide watch or suicide precaution, they’re in camera cells. And we have a staff member in our Master Control Unit that’s assigned to maintain observation on that and record it. Our staff do checks every 29 minutes or less. We have a handful of direct supervision pods where there’s a constant officer presence. And as I mentioned, our caseworkers are expected to be in the housing units daily. Our mental health staff make rounds in our segregation units every day, and our command staff do as well. So, there’s a lot of observation happening on multiple levels. But as far as officer checks go, every 29 minutes or less. For our suicide precaution inmates, there’s somebody watching the camera the whole time and they’re recording their observations every 15 minutes.


Audience Question: We see that people don’t buy into peer support until they need help, and until that time, it is a joke to them. So how do you get your staff to buy in and trust the peer support system, especially with the old stigmas that older generations have who aren’t as receptive to peer support? 

Diana Knapp:  So, here, we have the same problem, John. I’m glad you mentioned that. Actually, I’m glad we get a chance to talk about that. You’re absolutely right, and that is universal in our industry. Here’s what’s going to change it. It’s not something we’re going to be effective at changing overnight.

In your facilities, you have leaders that you’ve appointed and given rank to and then you have leaders people follow who may or may not have rank, the informal leadership structure. I would encourage you to try to reach out to those folks and see if you can get buy-in. If that’s somebody that the staff trust get that individual on your peer support team. William Young, who’s another great trainer out there, who speaks from experience, taught me at the American Jail Association’s, Jail Executive Institute, that the people you think are right for the peer support group, are not the people that staff trust. So that’s the first point. The second thing is we’re going to get there when we, as an industry, are really serious and vocal and thinking about officer wellness. When that becomes our organizational culture as an industry. That’s when I think it gets better, That’s when I think that we can have open conversations about mental health issues, mental wellness, and prevention. And then staff will know that you know, “This is okay,” but I just think we’re a long way from there. So, you got to tackle it in your facility by trying to identify those staff that your staff trust and get them engaged.


Audience Question: A recent trend in lawsuits is spoliation regarding video, and I would encourage that video is retained for the entire stay when you have significant events. I’ve seen default judgments when the entire video is not retained. Any thoughts on that?

Diana Knapp: I think that’s an excellent point, and I’m sure she is absolutely right. We’re doing the best that we can with incidents. Again, for us, it’s a storage space issue. Our homicide cases are taking 4 to 5 years to get through the court system. There’s no way for us to pull that kind of video at this point. I hope the technology will improve, but Penny makes an excellent point, and I appreciate that feedback.


Audience Question: You mentioned putting these inmates recently sentenced on suicide watch, and moving them to the Department of Corrections as soon as possible, is that only for inmates with significant sentences, or for everyone sentenced to DOC? 

Diana Knapp:  Thank you. That’s a good point. Actually, it’s not everybody. The cut-off for us has been a sentence of 10 years or more. We haven’t had an incident. The inmates that are getting those long sentences, they expect that. One of the first things that happens is our mental health team goes to them immediately. They get an e-mail from Transportation saying, “Hey, Inmate Jones has been sentenced to 12 years or whatever.” This happens for us Monday through Friday, and that’s helpful. But our mental health team immediately goes and sees that inmate, and they explain to him, or her, what’s going to happen next. “Hey, we’re going to hold you here, it’s just temporary. We’ll get you out of here as quickly as we possibly can. We’re going to get you onto DOC where you’ll have more space to move. This is a temporary situation.” Thank you for your patience, and pretty much, we don’t have any issues.


Audience Question: What are some ways to improve communication and maintain a good working relationship between correctional and medical mental health staff in order to strengthen a facility’s overall goal of starting a suicide prevention plan? 

Diana Knapp: That’s an excellent question, kind of a universal problem in the industry. Reach out to me if you have the opportunity.  Our medical and mental health, that’s the thing I love the best about them, is their responsivity. Seven o’clock at night, I’ve got a question coming in from, you know, the Sheriff has heard from somebody on social media. I can get an answer within 10 minutes and have an answer back to my sheriff, a comprehensive answer. That’s what we have here but a lot of that I think is about establishing expectations. You the manager, or you the administrator have to set your expectations. We do that in the pre-bid process for our contracts, say, “Hey, we’re looking for mental health people, really a priority for us is able to move in population unassisted.” But as far as medical goes, we expect you to provide the medical care that they need. But I also have to be able to get information from you at the drop of a hat, comprehensive information, and you have to have access to your records 24/7, so I can get that. And since we’ve established those expectations, we have had providers bid on those contracts, who are prepared to meet those expectations. So, I really think it’s been about us setting our demands, our expectations of those contracts upfront during the bid process, so there’s no buyer’s remorse later about what we were looking for.


Audience Question: Has your agency considered that you’re introducing therapy dogs for both staff and inmates? 

Diana Knapp:  Yes, yes, and yes, We’re going to have dogs. I just don’t know when. There was a time, I’ll be honest, that I personally was resistant to this. I don’t want to offend anybody, but I’m not really dog people. And I didn’t want the extra administrative hassle of figuring that out, honestly. But I see that in our future. I think that that could be a big win for us. And we do hope to implement that. By the way, I haven’t told my sheriff yet. So, if you can just keep that to yourself right now.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of In Custody Deaths: Beyond Case Closed. 


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