by Becky GINOS
FARMINGTON—Inmate deaths have been on the rise lately with some lawsuits being filed against correction facilities, including the Davis County Jail. Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross is trying to address the issue in the legislature through his bill SB205 that would tighten up the reporting process.
“Inmate deaths in jails have doubled,” said Weiler. “I’m concerned about why so many are dying? My bill would require jails (and the Department of Corrections) to file annual reports on in-custody deaths. I’m being told many are suicides.”
SB205 would call for reports on opiate addiction treatment service and prescriptions not dispensed while incarcerated as well. “You could get arrested and have a prescription from your doctor but the prison can say, ‘sorry we don’t allow those medications,’” he said.
“We don’t provide any kind of narcotics in jail,” said Davis County Sheriff Todd Richardson. “Some medications are specified for a physician to prescribe. When we book someone into the jail there are clear standards set that are followed by a physician. We do everything in our power not to be cruel or inhumane while they wean off of medications.”
Richardson said they do try to continue inmates’ medications as closely as possible. “We don’t buy name brand medications, we use generic,” he said. “They might be on one name brand but while they’re in our facility they’ll be on a generic. But if they’re booked in at 3 a.m. they’re probably not going to get their medication right then. If there is a significant issue with a delay we do what we can to hold them over until their medications come in. They’re not going to go without their medications.”
Overall, Richardson said he doesn’t have a problem with the bill. “Jails are the most litigious,” he said. “Inmates are sitting around reading law books and filing lawsuits. Of those, we’ve only had $2,500 in pay out over the last year. We’re doing good things.”
He said they’re never going to get rid of lawsuits but he doesn’t want to see the bill become onerous on the Sheriff’s Office by trying to create records that don’t exist now. “It’s (bill) just vague, it needs to be more specific,” said Richardson. “We’re housing 1,000 inmates when we’re full. We’re going to get sick people with heart problems and assorted conditions. If they’re having chest pain and we ship them out and they die at the hospital is that an in-custody death?”
Areas need to be refined in the bill as to what they are trying to accomplish by tracking this information, he said. “We keep records and share them all the time,” said Richardson. “Look at who we house. We house the highest risk people in Davis County. They have drug issues and may have several medical issues because of that. We also house inmates with mental health issues who have committed crimes.”
Richardson said they do everything they can to prevent inmates from taking their own lives as well. “There is no way to get rid of suicide 100 percent,” he said. “A lot of thought and care is taken not to provide anything they could use to harm themselves. But they use their ingenuity and find ways.”
The jail has a full nursing staff including a physician’s assistant and physicians who come twice a week, said Richardson. “In many ways inmates in our facility have better medical care than 90 percent of the public. We make sure they are taken care of.”
He said he doesn’t disagree with most of Weiler’s bill. “The majority of what he wants we have,” said Richardson. “He’s been good to sit down with us. We opened up the facility and he took a tour. We’re trying to make changes in the facility on how we deal with medical and mental issues and still get him the information he wants.”
In addition to SB205, Richardson said he’s watching a few other bills that could impact law enforcement. “I honesly don’t think Rep. Froerer looked into the death penalty and the amount of people who’ll get hurt inside (prison) if there is no death penalty,” he said. “We’re also fighting hard against legalizing marijuana. Not just the drug but how it is dispensed. We’re going to see a lot of collateral injuries dealing with a small group of individuals. It’s been a huge mess in Colorado.”