Jail cell improvements proposed

The Grand Traverse County Jail.

TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County officials hope to increase the safety of inmates at the county jail by making modifications to shower areas.

There were 51 attempted suicides and two suicides — Marilyn Lucille Palmer and Alan Bradley Halloway — at the Grand Traverse County Jail between 2011 and 2018. Both Halloway and Palmer hanged themselves, on July 21, 2017, and Feb. 28, 2018, respectively.

Palmer hanged herself in the shower area of her cell.

Grand Traverse County commissioners on Wednesday will be asked to approve spending $15,875 for modifications to shower walls in 10 of the county jail cells.

The modifications are a direct result of two suicides in the jail, wrote Capt. Todd Ritter, jail administrator for the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office, in a summary of the request. Ritter was unable to be reached by phone for further comment.

There currently are metal barriers that partially block toilets and showers from view of the security cameras, said Kit Tholen, Grand Traverse County deputy civil counsel.

“The problem with it is there are metal posts that extend up to the ceiling to hold the barriers in place and then a rail at the top of the metal barrier — and holes,” he said. “Each of those things can be tied off of for a noose.”

The county aims to address those safety concerns by taking out the metal barriers and installing concrete half-walls that wouldn’t require posts or anything else that could used to help make a noose, Tholen said.

Being sent to jail doesn't mean one forfeits all rights to privacy, but the rights retained are secondary to measures aimed at protecting inmates’ safety, said Tholen, adding that he doesn’t believe there are any legal issues with the changes proposed.

“I’m all for trying to make things safer and easier for staff to observe people, and if it’s going to make an area safer, then it’s definitely something we need to look at,” said Commissioner Brad Jewett.

Jewett said he’d like to hear from jail staff before making a final decision, but noted that, at the end of the day, $16,000 isn’t that much money.

Commissioner Ron Clous agreed, saying it was a modification that’s “certainly worth trying.”

Commissioners also are set to have a closed session Wednesday, where they will discuss a written legal opinion related to Palmer’s suicide.

“Her (family’s) attorney has indicated an intention to sue. This is to discuss the status of that,” Tholen said.

The attorney, Jesse Williams, said the county is aware that that a lawsuit might be filed at some point.

“It’s unfortunate,” Williams said of the situation. “Everybody just wants to see positive change. They (Palmer’s family) don’t want other families to go through these hardships.”

Williams also represented Halloway’s family in a suit against the county — county commissioners in November approved a $125,000 settlement. It was approved by the courts in January.

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