Will electronic inmate welfare check system help Calif. prisons reduce suicides?
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Will electronic inmate welfare check system help Calif. prisons reduce suicides?

Sacramento : CA : USA | Dec 10, 2013 at 12:31 PM PST
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Last October, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) unveiled a new electronic tracking system that guards will use for inmate welfare checks at 32 institutions.

Staff will use the new Inmate Welfare Check System (IWCS) to record the inmate activity, time and location of the welfare checks instead of the old paper system.

During the first three weeks of being placed in the Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU), also called solitary confinement, welfare checks on the inmate need to be completed three times per hour at staggered intervals not to exceed 30 minutes.

IWCS is composed of three parts: ibuttons, small devices with their own unique digital addresses and installed at the front of each cell; a Guard One Rounds Tracker “pipe,” which reads the ibutton to record the time and location of the check; and a leather wallet, which has 12 ibuttons inside of it that correspond to a different activity that the inmate is doing.

During the welfare check, the guard first touches the pipe to the ibutton on the front of the cell corresponding to the inmate. Then, the guard touches the pipe to the ibutton in the leather wallet that records the inmate’s activity.

At the end of each shift, the officer inserts the pipe into the Internet Protocol Downloader to securely transfer all of the time, location and activity data across LAN/WAN.

“It is through this collaborative effort by both the Division of Adult Institutions and Enterprise Information Systems that we were able to complete this endeavor,” said Capt. Joe Stein from the Office of Policy Standardization in Division of Adult Institutions in a CDCR blog post.

CDCR has come in for a great deal of criticism regarding its rate of inmate suicides over the past several years. According to a special master’s expert report mandated by the court after the case of Coleman v. Brown, the CDCR suicide rate in 2012 was 23.72 per 100,000 inmates (32 suicides total), much higher than the national average of 16 per 100,000 and an increase from 2011’s rate of 21.01 per 100,000.

Six correctional mental health professionals analyzed 15 specific suicides in the CDCR with the consent of both the CDCR and the Coleman court. However, there have been back-and-forth criticisms of untimeliness: CDCR expert Joel Dvoskin said the annual reports from the court experts were too slow for the prison system to implement the changes, while the court experts countered the CDCR was too slow in posting the suicide data, the only way they can get the data.

Out of the 15 cases reviewed for the report, rigor mortis had begun in three of the cases, indicating at least two to four hours passed between death and discovery of the bodies, rather than the 30 minute intervals between checks.

The IWCS is intended to reduce errors in the traditional pen-and-paper record-keeping that the guards doing welfare checks relied on prior to the new system, to make sure that the inmates are checked on in the correct intervals and, if a suicide attempt does occur, administer quick medical attention.

Over the years, the court experts recommended that the CDCR more consistently follow up clinically with depressed and suicidal inmates, that staff follow welfare check procedures more consistently and better supervise inmates that have histories of increased risk of suicide.

Raymond Patterson, a psychiatrist and main author of the report, criticized CDCR for not more consistently taking their recommendations of better checking on inmates.

“This review has repeated many of the same recommendations over and over again in his annual reports because, year after year, CDCR fails to implement these recommendations,” said main author Raymond Patterson [emphasis his]. “As a result, many of the same recommendations in the annual suicide reports have been repeated several times.”

As for whether the electronic system will help staff keep on top of inmate welfare checks and reduce the inmate suicide rate, Director of Enterprise Information Services for CDCR Joe Panora is hopeful.

“Through the implementation of Guard One, CDCR will be able to capture accurate, real time data when conducting welfare checks of inmates,” Panora said in a CDCR blog post, “allowing the Department to increase our efficiency and our overall effectiveness providing sound reportable data, while adhering to court mandates and reducing the percentage of inmate suicide attempts in the ASU.”

Amy Stewart is based in Sacramento, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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