This week another inmate attempted suicide in the Grand Traverse County Jail.
It happened on the same day Grand Traverse County released news of the $20,000 settlement with Marilyn Palmer’s family. Palmer died by suicide in the jail on Feb. 28, 2018.
Instead of handling the sad death of the 36-year-old mother with empathy, the tone is defensive.
“The very low settlement is a reflection of the minimal, if any, liability the County faced.”
“Policies and Procedures dictating medication delivery, hourly cell checks and observations were followed.”
The timing reminds us of another moment — the sheriff’s suicide prevention-based awards ceremony held the same day Palmer died — and after scrutiny in the wake of Alan Hollaway’s death by suicide in the jail the previous July.
It’s this cycle of defensive positioning that we need to break.
This is what we mean by “leadership vacuum” that the Sheriff found so offensive.
“Following policies and procedures” does not negate that some policies and procedures are bad practice.
And that Sheriff Tom Bensley still cannot answer questions about the health care of his inmates in his custody is alarming.
To be fair, we can appreciate Bensley’s attendance in recent meetings convened to address the ongoing issues with jail inmates receiving their medications safely.
We have cheered improvements in the jail in both our extensive coverage of them — 150-plus news stories and editorials in the collection currently on our website — and gave credit when credit is due.
But we also ask the tough questions. That’s our job.
We understand the multi-layered complexity of providing mental health services in a jail setting, and the fast-moving medical and philosophical insights driving change.
We understand that some of the issues in the jail are structural. Some of them money or a new facility may be able to fix.
But some of the issues will not be fixed in this way.
The Sheriff in his letter says that “no one outside of the sheriff’s office has offered any solutions to what has been perceived as inadequate medical and mental health services in the jail.”
The issues aren’t perceived; they are real.
The jail is where people end up on the worst day of their lives, and they must be kept safe there — no matter the circumstance.
Meaningful solutions will depend upon the Sheriff’s ability to stop quoting policy and pointing fingers long enough to acknowledge shortcomings at the jail he oversees.
In the meantime we will continue to investigate, ask questions, attend meetings — and give the Sheriff the opportunity to field questions and comment — at any time of day.