TRAVERSE CITY — A woman was returned to jail uninjured after she attempted to hang herself in her cell, officials said.
The 38-year-old was taken to Munson Medical Center after the Feb. 2 incident, according to Jail Administrator Chris Barsheff.
The incident was brought to staff attention quickly — Barsheff said the woman attempted to use her weight to choke herself with a tied piece of linen in her jail cell shower, but quickly changed her mind and asked a cellmate to call for guards.
She was conscious when guards burst into the cell, Barsheff said, and was released from Munson without injury later that day. The transport was primarily a precaution, Traverse City Police Lt. Erich Bohrer said — while Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department personnel manage the jail, it falls within TCPD’s jurisdiction, meaning the partner agency tends to respond to and file reports on in-jail emergency calls.
In the aftermath, Barsheff said he and a sergeant are looking back into the woman’s history at the jail to find anything that could’ve prevented the incident — something to learn from, he said.
It comes in a month with history for Grand Traverse County’s jail. On Feb. 28, 2018, Marilyn Palmer died by suicide using a tie-off point in her Grand Traverse County jail cell’s shower. The 36-year-old was a mother of three, and just 19 days into a sentence for felony identity theft.
Ten years before Palmer’s death, 21-year-old Sarah Clark died — also on Feb. 28 — after too hanging herself in a jail shower.
Policy and procedure changes have come since Barsheff’s 2019 appointment to the post, however — ones he said have been major priorities.
Barsheff said mental health policies have been reworked since Palmer’s death, and now intake forms allow those joining the jail population to list physical and mental health issues. They can also indicate whether they’d like to be connected to Community Mental Health and the jail’s Crisis Intervention Team.
Jail cells have also been equipped with communications that allow inmates to signal the jail control center when there’s an emergency — something utilized in last Tuesday’s incident.
The jail has also undergone window and shower repairs to be safer, Barsheff said — but there’s only so much to work with, and design can be difficult to overcome.
“The jail is very old. It really wasn’t constructed with suicide prevention in mind,” he said. “It wasn’t built to provide extensive medical care or provide treatment for mentally ill people.
“The dynamics of society have changed so much that we’re having to adapt facilities to reduce the risk.”
Those adaptations are clear in newer facilities, Barsheff said — they commonly feature more extensive mental and physical health wings, safer designs and spaces to safely hold classes, lessons and provide those in the jail with skills to be more successful upon reentry.
Grand Traverse County’s jail is difficult to clean and maintain, is age-weathered and has less-than-ideal structures, like in-cell bunk beds and tie-off points, he said.
“Certainly, corrections has evolved,” Barsheff said. “And so has the need to adapt facilities to meet the challenges of society as they exist today — and didn’t, maybe, 50 years ago, 25 years ago.”
A new facility has been discussed before, as the Record-Eagle has previously reported.
Barsheff hasn’t spent much time talking the issue over with commissioners, but said if it was on the priorities list, he’d be happy to be involved with such planning.
“Building a jail certainly is a lot of money, and that’s something that the county board will have to make a decision on someday, you know, if that’s something they want to do,” he said.